(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Children's Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "The ranch at the Wolverine"

THE RANCH AT 
THE WOLVERINE 



B.M. BOWER, 



THE RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 




It was a long pistol shot and he was afraid that he might miss. 
FRONTISPIECE. See Page 205. 



THE RANCH AT 
THE WOLVERINE 



By B. M BOWER 



Author of "The Lonesome Land," Etc. 




With Frontispiece by 
DOUGLAS DUER 



A. L, BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS 

114-120 East Twenty-third Street - New York 

Published by Arrangement with Little, Brown and Company 



Copyright, 191}, 
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPAHY. 



A II rights reserved 



URL 
SRLF 



4 1737 



i. 

ii. 

in. 

IV. 

v. 

VI. 

VII. 

VIII. 

IX. 

X. 

XI. 

XII. 

XIII. 

XIV. 

XV. 

XVI. 

XVII. 

XVIII. 

XIX. 

XX. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

LET Us START AT THE BEGINNING ... 1 

A STORM AND A STRANGER 21 

A BOOK, A BANNOCK, AND A BED ... 32 
" OLD DAME FORTUNE'S USED ME FOR A FOOT- 
BALL" 46 

MARTHY BURIES HER DEAD AND GREETS HER 

NEPHEW 59 

A MATTER OP TWELVE MONTHS OR So . . 7S 

WARD HUNTS WOLVES 97 

HELP FOR THE Cow BUSINESS . . . .111 
WHEN EMOTIONS ARE BOTTLED . . . .120 

THIS PAL BUSINESS 133 

WAS IT THE DOG? . 150 



THE LITTLE DEVILS OF 'DOUBT .... 
THE CORRAL IN THE CANYON .... 

EACH IN His OWN TRAIL 

" You WON'T GET ME AGAIN " . 

" I'M GOING TO TAKE You OUT AND HANG 

You" 

"So -LONG, BUCK!" 

FORTUNE KICKS AGAIN 

THE BRAVE BUCKAROO 

" WE BEEN SORRY FOR You " . . 
v 



164 
180 
194 
20i 



VI 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER 

XXI. SEVEN LEAN KINE 

XXII. THE BILLY OF HER . 

XXIII. BILLY LOUISE GETS A SURPRISE 

XXIV. THE HOOKIN' - COUGH MAN . 
XXV. THE WOLF JOKB .... 

XXVI. "HM-MM!" . . . . 

XXVII. MARTHY ...... 

XXVUI. ALL RIGHT AND COMFY 



PAGE 

266 
275 
286 
293 
306 
316 
327 
342 



The Ranch at the Wolverine 

CHAPTER I 

LET US START AT THE BEGINNING 

FOUR trail-worn oxen, their necks bowed to the 
yoke of patient servitude, should really begin 
this story. But to follow the trail they made would 
take several chapters which you certainly would skip 
unless you like to hear the tale of how the wilderness 
was tamed and can thrill at the stern history of those 
who did the taming while they fought to keep their 
stomachs fairly well filled with food a,nd their hard- 
muscled bodies fit for the fray. 

There was a woman, low-browed, uncombed, harsh of 
voice and speech and nature, who drove the four oxen 
forward over lava rock and rough prairie and the 
scanty sage. I might tell you a great deal about Marthy, 
who plodded stolidly across the desert and the low-lying 
hills along the Blackfoot; and of her weak-souled, shift- 
less husband whom she called Jase, when she did not 
call him worse. 

They were the pioneers whose lurching wagon first 
forded the singing Wolverine stream just where it 
greens the tiny valley and then slips between huge lava- 
rock ledges to join the larger stream. Jase would have 
stopped there and called home the sheltered little green 



2 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

spot in the gray barrenness. But Marthy went on, up 
the farther hill and across the upland, another full 
day's journey with the sweating oxen. 

They camped that night on another little, singing 
stream, in another little valley, which was not so level 
or so green or so wholly pleasing to the eye. And that 
night two of the oxen, impelled by a surer instinct 
than their human owners, strayed away down a narrow, 
winding gorge and so discovered the Cove and feasted 
upon its rich grasses. It was Marthy who went after 
them and who recognized the little, hidden Eden as 
the place of her dreams supposing she ever had 
dreams. So Marthy and Jase and the four oxen took 
possession, and with much labor and many hard years 
for the woman, and with the same number of years 
and as little labor as he could manage on the man's 
part, they tamed the Cove and made it a beauty spot 
in that wild land. A beauty spot, though their lives 
held nothing but treadmill toil and harsh words and a 
mental horizon narrowed almost to the limits of the 
grim, gray, rock wall that surrounded them. 

Another sturdy-souled couple came afterwards and 
saw the Wolverine and made for themselves a home 
upon its banks. And in the rough little log cabin was 
born the girl-child I want you to meet; a girl-child 
when she should have been a boy to meet her father's 
need and great desire; a girl-child whose very name 
was a compromise between the parents. For they 
called her Billy for sake of the boy her father wanted, 
and Louise for the girl her mother had longed for to 
lighten that terrible loneliness which the far frontier 
brings to the women who brave its stem emptiness. 



START AT THE BEGINNING 3 

Do you like children? In other words, are you 
human? Then I want you to meet -Billy Louise when 
she was ten and had lived all her life among the rocks 
and the sage and the stunted cedars and huge, gray hills 
of Idaho. Meet her with her pin'k sunbonnet hanging 
down the Back of her neck and her big eyes taking in 
the squalidness of Marthy's crude kitchen in the Cove, 
and her terrible directness of speech hitting squarely 
the things she saw that were different from her own 
immaculate home. Of course, if you don't care for 
children, you may skip a chapter and meet her later 
when she was eighteen but I really wish you would 
consent to know her at ten. 

" Mommie makes cookies with a raising in the mid- 
dle. She gives me two sometimes when the Bill of me 
has been workin' like the deuce with dad ; one for 
Billy and one for Louise. When I 'ni twelve, Mommie 's 
goin' to let the Louise of me make cookies all myself 
and put a raising on top. I '11 put two on top of one 
and bring it over for you, Marthy. And " Billy 
Louise was terribly outspoken at times "I '11 put 
four raisings on another one for Jase, 'cause he don't 
have any nice times with you. Don't you ever make 
cookies with raisings on 'em, Marthy ? I 'm hungry as 
a coyote and I ain't used to eating just bread and 
the kinda butter you have. Mom says you don't work 
it enough. She says you are too scared of water, and 
the buttermilk ain't all worked out, so that 's why it 
tastes so funny. Does Jase like that kind of butter, 
Marthy?" 

" If your mother had to do the outside work as well 



4 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

as the inside, mebbe she would n't work her butter so 
awful much, either. I dunno whether Jase likes it or 
not. He eats it," Marthy stated grimly. 

Billy Louise sighed. " Well, of course he 's awful 
lazy. Daddy says so. I guess I won't put but one 
raising on Jase's cookie when I'm twelve. Has Jase 
gone fishing again, Marthy ? " 

A gleam of satisfaction brightened Marthy 's hard, 
blue eyes, " No, he ain't. He 's in the root suller. 
You want some bread and some nice, new honey, Billy 
Louise? I jest took it outa the hive this morning. 
When you go home, I '11 send some to your maw if you 
can carry it." 

" Sure ! I can carry anything that 's good. If you 
put it on thick, so I can't taste the bread, I '11 eat it. 
Say, you like me, don't you, Marthy ? " 

"Yes," said Marthy, turning her back on the slim, 
wide-eyed girl, " I like yuh, Billy Louise." 

" You sound like you wish you did n't," Billy Louise 
remarked. Even at ten Billy Louise was keenly sen- 
sitive to tones and glances and that intangible thing 
we call atmosphere. " Are you sorry you like me ? " 

" No-o, I ain't sorry. A person 's got to like some- 
thing that 's alive and human, or " Marthy was 
clumsy with words, and she was always coming to the 
barrier between her powers of expression and the 
thoughts that were prisoned and dumb. " Here 's your 
bread 'n' honey." 

" What makes you sound that way, Marthy ? You 
sound like you had tears inside, and they could n't get 
out your eyes. Are you sad? Did you ever have a 
little girl, Marthy?" 



" What makes you ask that ? " Marthy sat heavily 
down upon a box beside the rough kitchen table and 
looked at Billy Louise queerly, as if she were half 
afraid of her. 

" I dunno but that 's the way mommie sounds 
when she says something about angel-brother. Did 
you ever " 

" Billy Louise, I 'm going to tell you this oncet, and 
then I don't want you to ast me any more questions, 
nor talk about it. You 're the queerest young one I 
ever seen, but you don't hurt folks on purpose I 've 
learnt that much about yuh." Marthy half rose from 
the box, and with her dingy, patched apron shooed an 
investigative hen out of the doorway. She knew that 
Billy Louise was regarding her fixedly over the huge, 
uneven slice of bread and honey, and she felt vaguely 
that a child's grave, inquiring eyes may be the hardest 
of all eyes to meet. 

" I never meant " 

" I know yuh never, Billy Louise. Kow don't tell your 
maw this. Long ago long before your maw ever found 
you, or your paw ever found your ranch on the Wolver- 
ine, I had a little girl, 'bout like you. She was a purty 
child her hair was like silk, and her eyes was blue, 
and we was Mormons, and we lived down clost to 
Salt Lake. And I seen so much misery amongst the 
women-folks you can't understand that, but mebby 
you will when you grow up. Anyway, when little 
Minervy kep' growin' purtyer and sweeter, I couldn't 
stand it to think of her growin' up and bein' a Mormon's 
wife. I seen so many purty girls . . . So I made up my 
mind we 'd move away off somewheree, where Minervy 



6 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

could grow up jest as sweet and purty as she was a 
mind to, and not have to suffer fer her sweetness and 
her purtyness. When you grow up, Billy Louise, 
you '11 know what I mean. So me and Jase packed 
up we kinda had to do it on the sly, on account uh 
the bishops and we struck out with a four-ox team. 

" We kep' a-goin' and kep' a-goin', fer I was scared 
to settle too clost. I seen how they keep spreadin' out 
all the time, and I wanted to git so fur away they 
would n't ketch up. And we got into bad country, 
where there wasn't no water skurcely. We swung too 
fur north, and got into the desert back there. And 
over next them three buttes little Minervy took sick. 
We tried to git outa the desert we headed over this 
way. But before we got to Snake river she died, and 
I had to leave 'er buried back there. We come on. I 
hated the church worse than ever, and I wanted 
to git clear away from 'em. Why, Billy Louise, we 
camped one night by the Wolverine, right about where 
your paw 's got his big corral ! We did n't stay there, 
because it was an Injun camping-ground then, and they 
was n't no use getting mixed up in no fuss, first thing. 
In them days the Injuns wasn't so peaceable as they 
be now. So we come on here and settled in the Cove. 

" And so I like yuh," said Marthy, in a tone that 
was half defiance, "because I can't help likin' yuh. 
You 're growin' up sweet and purty, jest like I wanted 
my little Minervy to grow up. In some ways you re- 
mind me of her, only she was quieter and did n't take 
so much notice of things a young one ain't s'posed to 
notice. Now l^don't want you askin' no more questions 
about her, 'cause I ain't going to talk about it ag*in; 



START AT THE BEGINNING 7 

and if yuh pester me, I ''11 send yuh home and tell your 
maw to keep yuh there. If you're the nice girl I 
think yuh be, you '11 be good to Marthy and not talk 
about " 

Billy Louise opened her eyes still wider, and licked 
the honey off one whole corner of the slice without 
really tasting anything. Marthy's square, uncompro- 
mising chin was actually quivering. Billy Louise was 
stricken dumb by the spectacle. She wanted to go and 
put her arms around Marthy's neck and kiss her; only 
Marthy's neck had a hairy mole, and there was no part 
of her face which looked in the least degree kissable. 
Still, Billy Louise felt herself all hot inside with re- 
morse and sympathy and affection. Physical contact 
being impossible. because of her fastidious instincts, and 
speech upon the subject being so sternly forbidden, 
Billy Louise continued to lick honey and stare in fas- 
cinated silence. 

" I '11 wash the dishes for you, Marthy," she offered 
irrelevantly at last, as a supreme sacrifice upon the 
altar of sympathy. When that failed to stop the slow 
procession of tears that was traveling down the furrows 
of Marthy's cheeks, she added ingratiatingly: " I '11 put 
six raisings on the cookie I 'in going to make for you.'' 

Whereupon Marthy did an unprecedented, an utterly 
amazing thing. She got up and gathered Billy Louise 
into her arms so unexpectedly that Billy Louise in- 
advertently buried her nose in the honey she had not 
yet licked off the bread. Marthy held her close pressed 
to her big, flabby bosom and wept into her hair in a 
queer, whimpering way that somehow made Billy 
Louise think of a hurt do<j. It was onlv for a minute 



8 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

that Marthy did this; she stopped almost as suddenly 
as she began and went outside, wiping her eyes and 
her nose impartially upon her dirty apron. 

Billy Louise sat paralyzed with the mixture of un- 
usual emotions that assailed her. She was exceedingly 
sticky and uncomfortable from honey and tears, and 
she shivered with repugnance at the odor of Marthy '9 
unbathed person. She was astonished at the outburst 
from phlegmatic Marthy Meilkc, and her pity was now 
alloyed with her promise to wash all those dirty dishes. 
Billy Louise felt that she had been a trifle hasty in 
making promises. There was not a drop of water in 
the house nor a bit of wood, and Billy Louise knew 
perfectly well that the dishpan would have a greasy, 
unpleasant feeling under her fastidious little fingers. 

She sighed heavily. " Well, I s'pose I might just as 
well get to work at 'em," she said aloud, as was her 
habit being a child who had no playmates. " I hate 
to dread a thing I hate." 

She looked at the messy slice of sour bread and 
threw it out to the speckled hen that had returned and 
was standing with one foot lifted tentatively ready 
for a forward step if the fates seemed kind and was 
regarding Billy Louise fixedly with one yellow eye. 
" Take it and go ! " cried the donor, impatient of the 
scrutiny. She picked up the wooden pail and went 
down to the creek behind the house, by a pathway bor- 
dered thickly with budding rosebushes and tall lilacs. 

Billy Louise first of all washed her face slowly and 

with a methodic thoroughness which characterized her 

- having lived for ten full years with no realization 

of hours and minutes as a measure for her actions. 



START AT THE BEGINNING 9 

She dried her face quite as deliberately upon her 
starched calico apron. Then she spent a few minutes 
trying to catch a baby trout in her cupped palms. 
Never had Billy Louise succeeded in catching a baby 
trout in her hands ; therefore she never tired of trying. 
Now, however, that rash promise nagged at her and 
would not let her enjoy the game as completely as 
usual. She took the wooden pail, and squatting on her 
heels in the wet sand, waited until a small school swam 
incautiously close to the bank, and scooped suddenly, 
with a great splash. She caught three tiny, speckled 
fish the length of her little finger, and she let the half- 
full pail rest in the shallow stream, while she watched 
the fry swimming excitedly round and round within. 

There was no great fun in that. Billy Louise could 
catch baby trout in a pail at home, from the waters of 
the Wolverine, whenever she liked. Many a time she 
had kept them in a big bottle until she tired of watching 
them, or they died because she forgot to change the 
water often enough. She could not get even a languid 
enjoyment out of them now, because she could not for 
a minute forget that she had promised to wash Marthy's 
dishes and Marthy always had so many dirty dishes ! 
And Marthy's dishpan was so greasy! Billy Louise 
gave a little shudder when she thought of it. 

" I wish her little girl had n't died," she said, her 
mind swinging from effect back to cause. " I could 
play with her. And she'd wash the dishes herself. 
I 'm going to name my new little pig Minervy. I wish 
she had n't died. I 'd show her my little pig, if 
Marthy 'd let her come over to our place. We could 
both ride on old Badger; Minervy could ride behind 



10 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

me, and we 'd go places together." Billy Louise medi- 
tatively stirred up the baby trout with a forefinger. 
" We 'd go up the canyon and have the caves for our 
play-houses. Minervy could have the secret cave away 
up the hill, and I 'd have the other one across from it ; 
and we 'd have flags and wigwag messages like daddy 
tells about in the war. And we 'd play the rabbits are 
Injuns, and the coyotes are big-Injun-chiefs sneaking 
down to see if the forts are watching. And whichever 
seen a coyote first would wigwag to the other one . . ." 
A baby trout, taking advantage of the pail tipping in 
the current, gave a flip over the edge and interrupted 
Billy Louise's fancies. She gave the pail a tilt and 
spilled out the other two fish. Then she filled it as 
full as she could carry and started back to pay the 
price of her sympathy. 

" I don't see what Minervy had to go and die for! " 
she complained, dodging a low-hanging branch of bloom- 
laden lilac. " She could wash the dishes and I 'd wipe 
'em and I s'pose there ain't a clean dish-towel in the 
house, either ! Marthy 's an awful slack housekeeper." 

Billy Louise, being a young person with a conscience 
of a sort washed the dishes, since she had given 
her word to do it. The dishpan was even more un- 
pleasant than experience had foretold for her; and of 
Marthy 's somewhat meager supply there seemed not one 
clean dish in the house. The sympathy of Billy Louise 
therefore waned rapidly; rather, it turned in upon 
itself. So that by the time she felt morally free to 
spend the rest of the afternoon as she pleased, she was 
not at all sorry for Marthy for having lost Minervy; 
instead, she was sorry for herself for having been be- 



START AT THE BEGINNING 11 

trayed into rashness and for being deprived of a play- 
mate. 

" I don't s'pose Marthy doctored her right, at- all," 
she considered pitilessly, as she returned down the lilac- 
bordered path. " If she had, I guess she would n't 
have died. I '11 bet she never gave her a speck of sage 
tea, like mommie always does when I 'm sick only' 
I ain't ever, thank goodness. I 'm just going to ask 
Jase if Marthy did." 

On the way to the root cellar, which was dug into 
the creek-bank well above high-water mark, Billy 
Louise debated within herself the ethics of speaking to 
Jase upon a forbidden subject. Jase had been Mi- 
nervy's father, and therefore knew of her existence, so 
that mentioning Minervy to him could not in any sense 
be betraying a secret. She wondered if Jase felt badly 
about it, as Marthy seemed to do. On the heels of that 
came the determination to test his emotional capacity. 

At the root cellar her attention was diverted. The 
cellar door was fastened on the outside, with the iron 
hasp used to protect the store of vegetables from the 
weather. Jase must be gone. She was turning away 
when she heard him clear his throat with that peculiar 
little hacking, rasping noise which sounded exactly as 
one would expect a Jase to sound. Billy Louise puck- 
ered her eyebrows, pressed her lips together under- 
standingly and disapprovingly and opened the 
door. 

Jase, humped over a heap of sprouting potatoes, 
blinked up apathetically into the sudden flood of sweet, 
spring air and sunshine. " Why, hello, Billy Louise," 
he mumbled, his eyes brightening a bit. 



12 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

! " Say, you was locked in here ! " Billy Louise faced 
him puzzled. " Did you know you was locked in ? " 

" Yes-s, I knowed it. Marthy, she locked the door." 
Jase reached out a bony hand covered with carrot- 
colored hairs and picked up a shriveling potato with 
long, sickly sprouts proclaiming life's persistence in 
perpetuating itself under adverse circumstances. He 
broke off the sprouts with a wipe of his dirty palm and 
threw the potato into a heap in the corner. 

" What for ? " Billy Louise demanded, watching 
Jase reach languidly out for another potato. 

" She seen me diggin' bait," Jase said tonelessly. 
" I did think some of ketchin' a mess of fish before I 
went to sproutin' p'tatoes, but Marthy she don't take no 
int'rest in nothin' but work." 

" Are the fish biting good ? " Billy Louise glanced 
toward the wider stream, where it showed through a 
gap in the alders. 

" Yes-s, purty good now. I caught a nice mess the 
other day; but Marthy, she don't favor my goin' 
fishin'." The lean hands of Jase moved slowly at his 
task. Billy Louise, watching him, wondered why he 
did not hurry a little and finish sooner. Still, she could 
not remember ever seeing Jase hurry at anything, and 
the Cove with its occupants was one of het very earliest 
memories. 

" Say, I '11 dig some more bait, and then we '11 go 
fishing ; shall we ? " 

"I dunno as I better " Jase's hand hovered 
aimlessly over the potato pile. " I got quite a lot 
sprouted, though and mebby " 

" I '11 lock you in till I get the bait dug," suggested 



START AT THE BEGINNING 13 

Billy Louise craftily. " And you work fast ; and then 
I'll let you out, and we'll lock the door agin, so 
Marthy '11 think you 're in there yet." 

" You 're sure smart to think up things," Jase ad- 
mired, smiling loose-lipped behind his scraggly beard, 
that was fading with the years. " I dunno but what 
it 'd serve Marthy right. She ain't got no call to lock 
the door on me. She hates like sin t' see me with a 
fish-pole in m' hand but she 's always et her share 
uh the messes I ketch. She ain't a reasonable woman, 
Marthy ain't. You git the bait. I '11 show Marthy 
who 's boss in this Cove ! " 

He might have encouraged himself into defying 
Marthy to her face, in another five minutes of com- 
plaining. But the cellar door closed upon him with a 
slam. Billy Louise was not interested in his opinion 
of Marthy; with her, opinions were valueless if not 
accompanied by action. 

" I never thought to ask him about Minervy," oc- 
curred to her while she was relentlessly dragging pale, 
fleshly fishworms from the loose black soil of Marthy's 
onion bed. " But I know she was mean to Minervy. 
She 's awful mean to Jase locking him up in the 
root cellar just 'cause he wanted to go fishing. If I 
was Jase I would n't sprout a single old potato for her. 
My goodness, but she '11 be mad when she opens the 
cellar door and Jase ain't in there ; I guess I '11 go 
home early, before Marthy finds it out." 

She really meant to do that, but the fish were hun- 
gry fish that day, and the joy of having a companion 
to exclaim with her over every hard tug even though 
that companion was only Jase enticed her to stay 



14 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

on and on, until a whiff of frying pork on the breeze 
that swept down the Cove warned Billy Louise of the 
near approach of supper-time. 

" I guess inebby I might as well go back to the 
suller," Jase remarked, his defiance weakening as he 
climbed the bank. " You come and lock the door agin, 
Billy Louise, and Marthy won't know I ain't been there 
all the time. She '11 think you caught the fish." He 
looked at her with a weak leer of conscious cunning. 

Billy Louise, groping vaguely for the sunbonnet that 
was dangling between her straight shoulder-blades, 
stared at him with wide eyes that held disillusionment 
and with it a contempt all the keener because it was the 
contempt of a child, whose judgment is merciless. 

" I should thing you 'd be ashamed ! " she said at 
last, forgetting that the idea had been born in her own 
brain. " Cowards do things and then sneak about it. 
Daddy says so. I don't care if Marthy is mad 'cause I 
let you out, and I don't care if she knows we went 
fishing. I thought you wanted Marthy to see she ain't 
so smart, locking you up in the cellar. I ain't going to 
bake you a single cookie with raisings on it, like I was 
going to." 

" Marthy 's got a sharp tongue in 'er head," Jase 
wavered, his eyes shifting from Billy Louise's uncom- 
promising stare. 

" Daddy says when you do a thing that 's mean, do 
it and take your medicine," Billy Louise retorted. 
" The boy of me that belongs to dad ain't a sneak, Jase 
Meilke. And," she added loftily, "the girl of me that 
belongs to mommie is a perfeck lady. Good day, Mr. 
Meilke. Thank you for a pleasant time fishing." 



START AT THE BEGINNING 15 

Whereupon the perfect lady part switched short 
skirts up the path and held a tousled head high with 
disdain, 

Jase, thus deserted, went shambling back to the cel- 
lar and fell to sprouting potatoes with what might al- 
most be termed industry. 

It pained Jase later to discover that Marthy was 
not interested in the open door, but in the very small 
heap of potatoes which he had " sprouted " that after- 
noon. There was other work to be done in the Cove, 
and there were but two pairs of hands to do it; that 
one pair was slow and shiftless and inefficient was bit- 
terly accepted by Marthy, who worked from sunrise 
until dark to make up for the shirking of those other 
hands. 

It was the trail experience over again, and it was an 
experience that dragged through the years without 
change or betterment. Marthy wanted to " get ahead." 
Jase wanted to sit in the sun with his knees drawn up,, 
just I don't know what, but I suppose he called it 
thinking. When he felt unusually energetic, he liked 
to dangle an impaled worm over a trout pool. Theo- 
retically he also wanted to get ahead and to have a fine 
ranch and lots of cattle and a comfortable home. He 
would plan these things sometimes in an expansive mood, 
whereupon Marthy would stare at him with her hard, 
contemptuous look until Jase trailed off into mum- 
bling complaints into his beard. He was not as able- 
bodied as she thought he was, he would say, with vague 
solemnity. Some uh these days Marthy 'd see how she 
had driven him beyond his strength. 

When one is a Marthy, however, with ambitions and 



16 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

a tireless energy and the persistence of a beaver, and 
when one listens to vague mutterings for many hard 
laboring years, one grows accustomed to the complain- 
ings and fails to see certain warning symptoms of which 
even the complainer is only vaguely aware. 

She kept on working through the years, and as far 
as was humanly possible she kept Jase working. She 
did not soften, except toward Billy Louise, who rode 
sometimes over from her father's ranch on the Wolver- 
ine to the flowery delights of the Cove. The place was 
a perfect jungle of sweetness, seven months of each 
year ; for Marthy owned and indulged a love of beauty, 
even if she could not realize her dream of prosperity. 
Wherever was space in the house-yard for a flower or 
a fruit tree or a berry bush, Marthy planted one or the 
other. You could not see the cabin from April until 
the leaves fell in late October, except in a fragmentary 
way as you walked around it. You went in at a gate 
of pickets which Marthy herself had split and nailed 
in place ; you followed a narrow, winding path through 
the sweet jungle and if you were tall, you stooped 
now and then to pass under an apple branch. And 
unless you looked up at the black, lava-rock rim of the 
bluff which cupped this Eden incongruously, you would 
forget that just over the brim lay parched plain and 
barren mountain. 

When Billy Louise was twelve, she had other am- 
bitions than the making of cookies with " raisings " on 
them. She wanted to do something big, though she was 
hazy as to the particular nature of that big something. 
She tried to talk it over with Marthy, but Marthy could 
not seem to think beyond the Cove, except that now and 



START AT THE BEGINNING 17 

then Billy Louise would suspect that her mind did 
travel to the desert and Minervy's grave. Marthy's 
hair was growing streaked with yellowish gray, though 
it never grew less unkempt and dusty 'looking. Her 
eyes were harder, if anything, except when they rested 
on Billy Lfluise. 

When she was thirteen, Billy Louise rode over with 
a loaf of bread she had baked all by herself, and she 
put this problem to Marthy: 

" I 've been thinking I 'd go ahead and write poetry, 
Marthy a whole book of it with pictures. But I do 
love to make bread and people have to eat bread. 
Which would you be, Marthy ; a poet, or a cook \ " 

Marthy looked at her a minute, lent her attention 
briefly to the question, and gave what she considered 
good advice. 

" You learn how to cook, Billy Louise. Yuh don't 
want to go and get notions. Your maw ain't healthy, 
and your paw likes good grub. Po'try is all foolish- 
ness; there ain't any money in it." 

"Walter Scott paid his debts writing poetry," said 
Billy Louise argumentatively. She had just read all 
about Walter Scott in a magazine which a passing cow- 
boy had given her; perhaps that had something to do 
with her new ambition. 

" Mebby he did and mebby he did n't. I 'd like to see 
our debts paid off with po'try. It 'd have to be worth 
a hull lot more 'n what I 'd give for it." 

" Oh. Have you got debts too, Marthy ? " Billy 
Louise at thirteen was still ready with sympathy. 
" Daddy 's got lots and piles of 'em. He bought some 
cattle and now he talks to mommie all the time about 



18 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

debts. Mommie wants me to go to Boise to school, 
next winter, to Aunt Sarah's. And daddy says there 's 
debts to pay. I did n't know you had any, Marthy." 

"Well, I have got. We bought some cattle, too 
and they ain't done 's well 's they might. If I had a 
man that was any good on earth, I could put up more 
hay. But I can't git nothing outa Jase but whines. 
Your paw oughta send you to school, Billy Louise, even 
if he has got debts. 1 7 d 'a' sent " 

She stopped there, but Billy Louise knew how she 
finished the sentence mentally. She would have sent 
Minervy to school. 

" Your paw ain't got any right to keep you outa 
school," Marthy went on aggressively. " Debts er no 
debts, he'd see't you got schoolin' if he was the 
right kinda man." 

" Daddy is the right kinda man. He ain't like Jase. 
He says he wishes he could, but he don't know where 
the money 's coming from." 

" How much 's it goin' to take ? " asked Marthy 
heavily. 

" Oh, piles." Billy Louise spoke airily to hide her 
pride in the importance of the subject. " Fifty dollars, 
I guess. I 've got to have some new clothes, mommie 
says. I 'd like a blue dress." 

" And your paw can't raise fifty dollars ? " Marthy's 
tone was plainly belligerent. 

" Got to pay interest," said Billy Louise importantly. 

Marthy said not another word about debts or the 
duties of parents. What she did was more to the point, 
however, for she hitched the mules to a rattly old buck- 
board next day and drove over to the MacDonald ranch 



START AT THE BEGINNING 19 

on the Wolverine. She carried fifty dollars in her 
pocket and that was practically all the money Marthy 
possessed, and had been saved for the debts that har- 
assed her. She gave the money to Billy Louise's 
mother and said that it was a present for Billy Louise, 
and meant for " school money." She said that she 
had n't any girl of her own to spend the money on, 
and that Billy Louise was a good girl and a smart irirl, 
and she wanted to do a little something toward her 
schooling. 

A woman will sacrifice "more pride than you would 
believe, if she sees a way toward helping her children 
to an education. Mrs. MacDonald took the money, and 
she promised secrecy with a feeling of relief that 
Marthy wished it. She was astonished to find that 
Marthy had any feelings not directly connected with 
work or the shortcomings of Jase, but she never sus- 
pected that Marthy had made any sacrifice for Billy 
Louise. 

So Billy Louisje went away to school and never knew 
whose money had made it possible to go, and Marthy 
worked harder and drove Jase more relentlessly to make 
up that fifty dollars. She never mentioned the matter 
to anyone. The next year it was the same; when, in 
August, she questioned Billy Louise clumsily upon 
the subject of finances, and learned that " daddy " still 
talked about debts and interest and did n't know where 
the money was coming from, she drove over again with 
money for the " schooling." And again she extracted a 
promise of silence. 

She did this for four years, and not a soul knew 
that it cost her anything in the way of extra work and 



20 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

extra harassment of mind. She bought more cattle 
and cut more hay and went deeper into debt; for as 
Billy Louise grew older and prettier and more accus- 
tomed to the ways of town, she needed more money, and 
the August gift grew proportionately larger. The 
mother was thankful beyond the point of questioning. 
An August without Marthy and Marthy's gift of money 
would have been a tragedy; and so selfish is mother- 
love sometimes that she would have accepted the gift 
even if she had known what it cost the giver. 

At eighteen, then, Billy Louise knew some things 
not taught by the wide plains and the wild hills around 
her. She was not spoiled by her little learning, which 
was a good thing. And when her father died tragically 
beneath ari overturned load of poles from the mountain 
at the head of the canyon, Billy Louise came home. 
The Billy of her tried to take his place, and the Louise 
of her attempted to take care of her mother, who was 
unfitted both by nature and habit to take care of her- 
self. Which was, after all, a rather big thing for any- 
one, to attempt. 



CHAPTER H 

A STOBM AND A STRANGER 

JASE began to complain of having "all-gone" 
feelings during the winter after Billy Louise came 
home and took up the whole burden of the Wolverine 
ranch. He complained to Billy Louise, when she rode 
over one clear, sunny day in January; he said that he 
was getting old which was perfectly true and that 
he was not as able-bodied as he might be, and didn't 
expect to last much longer. Billy Louise spoke of it 
to Marthy, and Marthy snorted. 

" He 's able-bodied enough at mealtimes, I notice/' 
she retorted. " I 've heard that tune ever since I 
knowed him ; he can't fool me ! " 

" Xot about the all-goneness, have you?" Billy 
Louise was preparing to wipe the dishes for Marthy. 
" I know he always had ' cricks ' in different parts of 
his anatomy, but I never heard about his feeling all- 
gone, before. That sounds mysterious, don't you 
think?" 

" No ; and he never had nothin' the matter with his 
anatomy, neither ; his anatomy 's just as sound as mine. 
Jase was born lazy, is all ails him." 

" But, Marthy, have n't you noticed he does n't look 
as well as he used to? He has a sort of gray look, 
don't you think? And his eyes are so puffy under- 
neath, lately." 



22 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" No, I ain't noticed nothing wrong with him that 
ain't always heen wrong." Marthy spoke grudgingly, 
as if she resented even the possibility of Jase's having 
a real ailment. " He 's feelin' his years, mebby. But 
he ain't no call to ; Jase ain't but three years older 'n 
I be, and I ain't but fifty-nine last birthday. And I 've 
worked and slaved here in this Cove fer twenty-seven 
years, now; what it is I've made it. Jase ain't ever 
done a hand's turn that he was n't obliged to do. I 've 
chopped wood, and I 've built corrals and dug ditches, 
and Jase has puttered around and whined that he 
was n't able-bodied enough to do no heavy lifting. 
That there orchard out there I planted and packed 
water in buckets to it till I got the ditch through. 
Them corrals down next the river I built. I dug the 
post-holes, and Jase set the posts in and held 'em steady 
while I tamped the dirt! In winter I've hauled hay 
and fed the cattle; and Jase, he packed a bucket uh 
slop, mebby, to the pigs ! If he ain't as able-bodied as 
I be, it 's because he ain't done nothing to git strong on. 
He can't come around me now with that all-gone feeling 
uh his; I know Jase Meilke like a book." 

There was more that she said about Jase. Standing 
there, a squat, unkempt woman with a seamed, leathery 
face and hard eyes now quite faded to gray, she told 
Billy Louise a good deal of the bitterness of the years 
behind; years of hardship and of slavish toil and no 
love to lighten it. She spoke again of Minervy, and 
the name brought back to Billy Louise poignant mem- 
ories of her own lonely childhood and of her " pretend " 
playmate. 

Half shyly, because she was still sometimes touched 



A STORM AND A STRANGER 23 

with the inarticulateness of youth, Billy Louise told 
Marthy a little of that playmate. " Why, do you know, 
every time I rode old Badger anywhere, after that day 
you told me about Minervy, I used to pretend that 
Minervy rode behind me. I used to talk to her by 
the hour and take her places. And up our canyon is 
a cave that I used to play was Minervy's cave. I had 
another one, and I used to go over and visit Minervy. 
And I had another pretend playmate a boy and 
we used to have adventures. It 's a queer place ; I just 
found that cave by accident. I don't believe there 's 
another person in the country who knows it 's there at 
all. Well, that 's Minervy's cave to me yet. And, 
Marthy " Billy Louise giggled a little and eyed the 
old woman with a sidelong look that would have set 
a young man's blood a- jump '' I hope you won't be 
mad; I was just a kid, and I did n't know any better. 
But just to show you how much I thought: I had a 
little pig, and I named it Minervy, after you told me 
about her. And mommie told me that was no name 
for it ; it was it was n't a girl pig, mommie said. 
So I called it Man-ervy, as the next best thing." She 
gave Marthy another wasted glance from the corners 
of her eyes. " Oh, Marthy ! " she cried remorsefully, 
setting down the gravy bowl that she might pat Marthy 
on her fat, age-rounded shoulder. " What a little beast 
I am ! I should n't have told that ; but honest, I thought 
it was an honor. I I just worshiped that pig ! " 

Jase maundered in at that moment, and Marthy, 
catching up a corner of her dirty apron Billy Louise 
could not remember ever seeing Marthy in a perfectly 
clean dress or apron wiped away what traces of 



24 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

emotion her weathered face could reveal. Also, she 
turned and glared at Jase with what Billy Louise con- 
sidered a perfectly uncalled-for animosity. In reality, 
Marthy was covertly looking for visible symptoms of 
the all-goneness. She shut her harsh lips together 
tightly at what she saw ; Jase certainly was puffy under 
his watery, pink-rimmed eyes, and the withered cheeks 
above his thin graying beard really did have a pasty, 
gray look. 

" D' you turn them calves out into the corral ? " she 
demanded, her voice harder because of her secret un- 
easiness. 

" I was goin' to, but the wind 's changed into the 
north, 'n' I thought mebby you would n't want 'em out." 
Jase turned back aimlessly to the door. His voice was 
getting cracked and husky, and the deprecating note 
dominated pathetically all that he said. " You '11 have 
to face the wind goin' home," he said to Billy Louise. 
" More 'n likely you '11 be facin' snow, too. Looks bad, 
off that way." 

" You go on and turn them calves out ! " Marthy 
commanded him harshly. " Billy Louise ain't goin' 
home if it storms ; I sh'd think you 'd know enough to 
know that." 

" Oh, but I '11 have to go, anyway," the girl inter- 
rupted. " Mommie can't be there alone ; she 'd worry 
herself to death if I didn't show up by dark. She 
worries about every little thing since daddy died. I 
ought to have gone before or I ought n't to have come. 
But she was worrying about you, Marthy ; she had n't 
seen or heard of you for a month, and she was afraid 
you might be sick or something. Why don't you gvt 



A STORM AND A STRANGER 25 

someone to stay with you? I think you ought to." 
She looked toward the door, which Jase had closed upon 
his departure. " If Jase should get sick, or any- 
thing " 

" Jase ain't goin' to git sick," Marthy retorted 
glumly. !i Yuh don't want to let him worry yuh, Billy 
Louise. If I 'd worried every time he yowled around 
about being sick, I 'd be dead or crazy by now. I 
dunno but maybe I '11 have somebody to help with the 
work, though," she added, after a pause during which 
she had swiped the dish-rag around the sides of the 
pan once or twice, and had opened the door and thrown 
the water out beyond the doorstep like the sloven she 
was. " I got a nephew that wants to come out. He 's 
been in a bank, but he 's quit and wants to git on to 
a ranch. I dunno but I '11 have him come, in the 
spring." 

" Do," urged Billy Louise, perfectly unconscious of 
the potentialities of the future. " I hate to think of 
you two down here alone. I don't suppose anyone 
ever comes down here, except me and that isn't 
often." 

" Nobody 's got any call to come down," said Marthy 
stolidly. " They sure ain't going to come for our 
comp'ny and there ain't nothing else to bring 'em." 

" Well, there are n't many to come, you know," 
laughed Billy Louise, shaking out the dish towel and 
spreading it over two nails, as she did at home. " I 'm 
your nearest neighbor, and I 're got six miles to ride 
against the wind, at that. I think I 'd better start. 
We've got a halfbreed doing chores for us, but the has 
to be looked after or he neglects things. I '11 not get 



26 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

another chance to come very soon, I 'm afraid ; mommie 
hates to have me ride around much in the winter. You 
send for that nephew right away, why don't you, 
Marthy ? " It was like Billy Louise to mix command 
and entreaty together. V Eeally, I don't think Jase 
looks a bit well." 

" A good strong steepin' of sage '11 fix him ull ^ight, 
only he ain't sick, as I see. You take this shawi." 

Billy Louise refused the shawl and ran down the 
twisted path fringed with long, reaching fingers of 
the bare berry bushes. At the stable she stopped for 
an aimless dialogue with Jase and then rode away, 
past the orchard whose leafless branches gave glimpses 
of the low, sod-roofed cabin, with Marthy standing 
rather disconsolately on the rough doorstep watching 
her go. 

Absently she let down the bars in the narrowest 
place in the gorge and lifted them into their rude 
sockets after she had led her horse through. All through 
the years since Marthy had gone down that rocky gash 
in search of Buck and Bawley, no human being had 
entered or left the Cove save through that narrow 
opening. The tingle of romance which swept always 
the nerves of the girl when she rode that way fastened 
upon her now. She wished the Cove belonged to her; 
she thought she would like to live in a place like that, 
with warlike Indians all around and that gorge to 
guard day and night. She wished she had been Marthy, 
discovering that place and taming it, little by little, 
in solitary achievement the sweeter because it had 
been hard. 

" It 's a bigger thing," said Billy Louise aloud to 



A STORM AND A STRANGER 27 

her horse, " to make a home here in this wilderness, 
than to write the greatest poem in the world or paint 
the greatest picture or anything. I wish . . " 

Blue was climbing steadily out of the gorge, twitch- 
ing an ear backward with flattering attention when his 
lady spoke. He held it so for a minute, waiting for 
that sonte~.ce to be finished, perhaps; for he was wise- 
beyond his kind was Blue. But his lady was star- 
ing at the rock wall they were passing then, where the 
winds and the cold and heat had carved jutting ledges 
into the crude form of cabbages; though Billy Louise 
preferred to call them roses. Always they struck her 
with a new wonder, as if she saw them for the first 
time. Blue went on, calmly stepping over this rock 
and around that as if it were the simplest thing in 
the world to find sure footing and carry his lady 
smoothly up that trail. He threw up his head so 
suddenly that Billy Louise was startled out of her aim- 
less dreamings, and pointed nose and ears toward the 
little creek-bottom above, where Marthy had lighted her 
camp-fire long and long ago. 

A few steps farther, and Blue stopped short in the 
trail to look and listen. Billy Louise could see the 
nervous twitchings of his muscles under the skin of 
neck and shoulders, and she smiled to herself. Nothing 
could ever come upon her unaware when she rode alone, 
so long as she rode Blue. A hunting dog was not more 
keenly alive to his surroundings. 

" Go on, Blue," she commanded after a minute. " If 
it 's a bear or anything like that, you can make a run 
for it ; if it 's a wolf, I '11 shoot it. You need n't stand 
here all night, anyway." 



Blue went on, out from behind the willow growth 
that hid the open. He returned to his calm, picking a 
smooth trail through the scattered rocks and tiny wash- 
outs. It was the girl's turn to stare and speculate. 
She did not know this horseman who sat negligently 
in the saddle and looked up at the cedar-grown bluff 
beyond, while his horse stood knee-deep in the little 
stream. She did not know him; and there were not 
so many travelers in the land that strangers were a 
matter of indifference. 

Blue welcomed the horse with a democratic nicker 
and went forward briskly. And the rider turned his 
head, eyed the girl sharply as she came up, and nodded 
a cursory greeting. His horse lifted its head to look, 
decided that it wanted another swallow or two, and 
lowered its muzzle again to the water. 

Billy Louise could not form any opinion of the 
man's age or personality, for he was encased in a wolf- 
skin coat which covered him completely from hatbrim 
to ankles. She got an impression of a thin, dark face, 
and a sharp glance from eyes that seemed dark also. 
There was a thin, high nose, and beyond that Billy 
Louise did not look. If she had, the mouth must cer- 
tainly have reassured her somewhat. 

Blue stepped nonchalantly down into the stream 
Reside the strange horse and went across without stop- 
ping to drink. The strange horse moved on also, as if 
that were the natural thing to do which it was, 
since chance sent them traveling the same trail. Billy 
Louise set her teeth together with the queer little 
vicious click that had always been her habit when she 



A STORM AND A STRANGER 29 

felt thwarted and constrained to yield to circumstances, 
and straightened herself in the saddle. 

" Looks like a storm," the fur-coated one observed, 
with a perfectly transparent attempt to lighten the 
awkwardness. 

Billy Louise tilted her chin upward and gazed at 
the gray sweep of clouds moving sullenly toward the" 
mountains at her back. She glanced at the man and 
caught him looking intently at her face. 

He did not look away immediately, as he should 
have done, and Billy Louise felt a little heat-wave of 
embarrassment, emphasized by resentment. 

" Are you going far ? " he queried in the same tone 
he had employed before. 

" Six miles," she answered shortly, though she tried 
to be decently civil. 

" I 've about eighteen," he said. " Looks like we '11 
both get caught out in a blizzard." 

Certainly, he had a pleasant enough voice and 
after all it was not his fault that he happened to be at 
the crossing when she rode out of the gorge. Billy 
Louise, in common justice, laid aside her resentment 
and looked at him with a hint of a smile at the corners 
of her lips. 

" That 's what we have to expect when we travel in 
this country in the winter," she replied. " Eighteen 
miles will take you long after dark." 

" Well, I was sort of figuring on putting up at some 
ranch, if it got too bad. There 's a ranch somewhere 
ahead, on the Wolverine, is n't there ? " 

" Yes." Billy 'Louise bit her lip ; but hospitality 
is an unwritten law of the West a law not to be 



30 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

lightly broken. " That 's where I live. We '11 be glad 
to have you stop there, of course." 

The stranger must have felt and admired the un- 
conscious dignity of her tone and words, for he thanked 
her simply and refrained from looking too intently at 
her face. 

Fine siftings of snow, like meal flung down from a 
gigantic sieve, swept into their faces as they rode on. 
The man turned his face toward her after a long 
silence. She was riding with bowed head and face 
half turned from him and the wind alike. 

" You 'd better ride on ahead and get in out of this," 
he said curtly. " Your horse is fresh. It 's going 
to be worse and more of it, before long; this cayuse of 
mine has had thirty miles or so of rough going." 
, " I think I 'd better wait for you," she said primly. 
" There are bad places where the trail goes close to 
the bluff, and the lava rock will be slippery with this 
snow. And it 's getting dark so fast that a stranger 
might go over." 

" If that 's the case, the sooner you are past the bad 
places the better. I 'm all right. You drift along." 

Billy Louise speculated briefly upon the note of 
calm authority in his voice. He did not know, evi- 
dently, that she was more accustomed to giving com- 
mands than to obeying them ; her lips gave a little 
quirk of amusement at his mistake. 

" You go on. I don't want a guide." He tilted 
his head peremptorily toward the blurred trail ahead. 

Billy Louise laughed a little. She did not feel in 
the least embarrassed now. " Do you never get what 
you don't want ? " she asked him mildly. " I 'd a lot 



A STORM AND A STRANGER 31 

rather lead you past those places than have you go 
over the edge," she said, " because nobody could get 
you up, or even go down and bury you decently. It 
would n't be a bit nice. It 's much simpler to keep 
you on tO." 

He said something, but Billy Louise could not hear 
what it was ; she suspected him of swearing. She rode~ 
on in silence. 

" Blue 's a dandy horse on bad trails and in the 
dark," she observed companionably at last. " He sim- 
ply can't lose his footing or his way." 

"Yes? That's nice." 

Billy Louise felt like putting out her tongue at him, 
for the cool remoteness of his tone. It would serve him 
right to ride on and let him break his neck over the 
bluff if he wanted to. She shut her teeth together and 
turned her face away from him. 

So, in silence and with no very good feeling between 
them, they went precariously down the steep hill (the 
hill up which Marthy and the oxen and Jase had toiled 
so laboriously, twenty-seven years before) and across 
the tiny flat to where the cabin window winked a wel- 
come at them through the storm. 



CHAPTER III 

A BOOK, A BANNOCK, AND A BED 

BLUE led the way straight to the low, dirt-roofed 
stable of logs and stopped with his nose against 
the closed door. Billy Louise herself was deceived by 
the whirl of snow and would have missed the stable 
entirely if the leadership had been hers. She patted 
Blue gratefully on the shoulder when she unsaddled 
him. She groped with her fingers for the wooden peg 
in the wall where the saddle should hang, failed to 
find it, and so laid the saddle down against the logs 
and covered it with the blanket. 

" Just turn your horse in loose," she directed the 
man shortly. " Blue won't fight, and I think the 
rest of the horses are in the other part. And come on 
to the house." 

It pleased her a little to see that he obeyed her with- 
out protest; but she was not so pleased at his silence, 
and she led the way rather indignantly toward the wink- 
ing eye which was the cabin's window. 

At the sound of their feet on the wide doorstep, her 
mother pulled open the door and stood fair in the 
light, looking out with the anxious look which had 
lived so long in her face that it had lines of its own 
chiseled deep in her forehead and at the sides of her 
mouth. 

" Is that you, Billy Louise ? Oh, ain't Peter Howling 



BOOK, BANNOCK, AND BED 33 

Dog with you ? What makes you so terrible late, Billy 
Louise? Come right in, stranger. I don't know your 
name, but I don't need to know it. A storm like this 
is all the interduction a fellow needs, I guess." * She 
smiled, at that. She had a nice smile, with a little re- 
semblance to Billy Louise, except that the worried, in- 
quiring look never left her eyes; as if she had once 
waited long for bad news, and had met everyone with 
anxious, eager questioning, and her eyes had never 
changed afterwards. Billy Louise glanced at her with 
her calm, measuring look, making the contrast very 
sharp between the two. 

" What about Peter ? " she asked. " Is n't he here ? " 

" No, and he ain't been since an hour or so after you 
left. He saddled up and rode off down the river to 
the reservation, I reckon." 

" Then the chores are n't done, I suppose." Billy 
Louise went over and took a lantern down from its 
nail, turning up the wick so that she could light it with 
the candle. " Go up to the fire and thaw out," she 
invited the man. " We '11 have supper in a few min- 
utes." 

Instead he reached out and took the lantern from 
her as soon as she had lighted it. " You go to the fire 
yourself," he said. " I '11 do what 's necessary out- 
side." 

" Why-y " Billy Louise, her fingers still clinging 
to the lantern, looked up at him. He was staring down 
at her with that intent look she had objected to on the 
trail, but she saw his mouth, and the little smile that 
hid just back of his lips. She smiled back without know- 
ing it. " I '11 have to go along, anyway. There are cows 

A 



34 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

to milk and you could n't very well find the cow-stable 
alone." 

"Think not?" 

Billy Louise had been perfectly furious at that tone, 
out on the trail. Now that she could see his lips and 
their little twitching to keep back the smile, she did 
not mind the tone at all. She had turned away to get 
the milk pails, and now she gave him a sidelong look, 
of the kind that had been utterly wasted upon Marthy. 
The man met it and immediately turned his atten- 
tion to the lantern wick, which needed nice adjustment 
before its blaze quite pleased him ; he was not a Marthy 
to receive such a look unmoved. 

Together they went out again into the storm they 
had left so eagerly. Billy Louise showed him where 
was the pitchfork and the hay, and then did the milking 
while he piled full the mangers. After that they weni 
together and turned the shivering work horses into the 
stable from the corral where they huddled, rumps to 
the storm; and the man lifted great forkfuls of hay 
and carried it into their stalls, while Billy Louise held 
the lantern high over her head like a western Liberty. 
They did not talk much, except when there was need 
for speech; but they were beginning to feel a little 
glow of companionship by the time they were ready 
to fight their way against the blizzard to the house, 
Billy Louise going before with the lantern, while the 
man followed close behind, carrying the two pails of 
milk that was already freezing in little crystals to the 
tin. 

" Did yotf get everything done ? You must be half 
froze and starved into the bar^in." Mrs. Mac- 



BOOK, BANNOCK, AND BED 35 

Donald, as is the way of some women who know the 
weight of isolation, had a habit of talking with a nerv- 
ous haste at times, and of relapsing into long, brooding 
silences afterwards. She talked now, while she pulled 
a pan of hot, brown biscuits from the oven, poured 
the tea, and turned crisp, browned potatoes out of a 
frying-pan into a deep, white bowl. She wondered, 
over and over, why Peter Howling Dog had left and 
why he did not return. She said that was the way, 
when you depended on Indians for anything. She did 
wish there was a white man to be had. She asked after 
Marthy and Jase and gave Billy Louise no opportunity 
to tell her anything. 

Billy Louise glanced often at the man, who did not 
look in the least as she had fancied, except that he 
really did have a high nose and terribly keen eyes with 
something behind the keenness that baffled her. And 
his mouth was pleasant, especially when that smile hid 
just behind his lips; also, she liked his hair, which 
was thick and brown, with hints of red in it here and 
there, and a strong inclination to curl where it was 
longest. She had known he was tall when he stepped 
into the light of the door; now she saw that he was 
slim to the point of leanness, with square shoulders and 
a nervous quickness when he moved. His fingers were 
never idle; when he was not eating, he rolled bits of 
biscuit into tiny, soggy balls beside his plate, or played 
a soft tattoo with his fork. 

" I did n't quite catch your name, mister," her 
mother said finally. " But take another biscuit, any- 
way." 

" Warren is my name," returned the man, with that 



36 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

hidden smile because she had rfever before given him 
any opportunity to tell it. " Ward Warren. I 've get 
a claim over on Mill Creek." 

Billy Louise gave a little gasp and distractedly 
poured two spoons of sugar in her tea, although she 
hated it sweetened. 

I 've got to tell you why, even at the price of digres- 
sion. Long ago, when Billy Louise was twelve or so, 
and lived largely in a dream world of her own with 
Minervy for her " pretend " playmate, she had one day 
chanced upon a paragraph in a paper that had come 
from town wrapped around a package of matches. It 
was all about Ward Warren. The name caught her 
fancy, and the text of the paragraph seized upon her 
imagination. Until school filled her mind with other 
things, she had built adventures without end in which 
Ward Warren was the central figure. Up the canyon 
at the caves, she sometimes pretended that Ward 
Warren had abducted Minervy and that she must lead 
the rescue. Sometimes, when she rode in the hills, 
Ward Warren abducted her and led her into strange 
places where she tried to shiver in honest dread. Often 
and often, however, Ward Warren was a fugitive who 
came to her for help; then she would take him to 
Minervy's cave and hide him, perhaps; or she would 
mount her horse and lead him, by devious ways, to 
safety, and upon some hilltop from which she could 
point out the route he must follow, she would bid him 
a touching adieu and beseech him, in the impossible 
language of some old romancer, to go and lead a 
blameless life. Sitting there at the table opposite him, 
stirring the sugar heedlessly into her tea, one favorite 



BOOK, BANNOCK, AND BED 37 

exhortation returned from her dream-world, clear as 
if she had just spoken it aloud. " Go, and sin no 
more; and if perchance you will in some distant far 
land send me a kind thought, that will be reward 
enough for what I have done this day. Farewell, 
Ward Warren Kismet." 

The lips of Billy Louise smiled and stopped just 
short of laughter, and she looked across at Ward 
Warren as if she expected him to laugh also at that 
frightfully virtuous though stilted adieu. She found 
him looking straight at her in that intent fashion that 
seemed as if he would see through and all around her 
and her thoughts. He was not smiling at all. His 
mouth was pulled into a certain bitter understanding; 
indeed, he looked exactly as if Billy Louise had dealt 
him a deliberate affront which he could neither parry 
nor fling back at her, but must endure with what stoi- 
cism he might 

Billy Louise blushed guiltily, took an unpremedi- 
tated swallow of tea, and grimaced over the sickish 
sweetness of it. She got up and emptied the tea into 
the slop bucket, and loitered over the refilling of the 
cup so that when she returned to the table she was at 
least outwardly calm. She felt another quick, keen 
glance from across the table, but she helped herself 
composedly to the cream and listened to her mother 
with flattering attention. 

" Jase has got all-gone feelings now, mommie," she 
remarked irrelevantly during a brief pause and re- 
lapsed into silence again. She knew that was good for 
at least five minutes of straight monologue, with her 
mother in that talking mood. She finished her supper 



38 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

while Warren listened abstractedly to a complete 
biography of the Meilkes and learned all about Marthy's 
energy and Jase's shiftlessness. 

" Ward Warren ! " Billy Louise was saying to her- 
self. " Did you ever in your life it 's exactly as if 
Minervy should come to life and walk in. Ward War- 
ren ! There could n't possibly be two Ward Warrens ; 
it 's such an odd name. Well ! " 

Then she went mentally over that paragraph. She 
wished she did not remember every single word of it, 
but she did. And she was afraid to look at him after 
that. And she wanted to, dreadfully. She felt as 
though he belonged to her. Why, he was her old play- 
mate ! And she had saved his life hundreds of times, 
at immense risks to herself; and he had always been 
her devoted slave afterwards, and never failed to ap- 
pear at the precise moment when she was beset by 
Indians or robbers or something, and in dire need. 
The blood he had shed in her behalf! At that point 
Billy Louise startled herself and the others by sud- 
denly laughing out loud at the memory of one time 
when Ward Warren had killed enough Indians to fill 
a deep washout so that he might carry her across to 
the other side! 

" Is there anything funny about Jase Meilke dying, 
Billy Louise?" her mother asked her in a perfectly 
shocked tone. 

" No I was thinking of something else." She 
glanced at the man eyeing her so distrustfully from 
across the table and gurgled again. It was terribly 
silly, but she simply could not help seeing Ward War- 
ren calmly filling that washout with dead Indians so 



BOOK, BANNOCK, AND BED 39 

that he might carry her across it in his arms. The 
more she tried to forget that, the funnier it became. 
She ended by leaving the table and retiring precipi- 
tately to her own tiny room in the lean-to where she 
buried her face as deep as it would go in a puffy pillow 
of wild duck feathers. 

He, poor devil, could not be expected to know just 
what had amused her so; he did know that it some- 
how concerned himself, however. He took up his posi- 
tion mentally behind the wall of aloofness which 
stood between himself and an unfriendly world, and 
when Billy Louise came out later to help with the 
dishes, he was sitting absorbed in a book. 

Billy Louise got out her algebra and a slate and be- 
gan to ponder the problem of a much-handicapped goat's 
feeding-ground. Ward Warren read and read and 
read and never looked up from the pages. Never in 
her life had she seen a man read as he read ; hungrily, 
as a starved man eats ; rapidly, his eyes traveling like 
a shuttle across the page; down, down flip a leaf 
quickly and let the shuttle-glance go on. Billy Louise 
let her slate, with the goat problem unsolved, lie in 
her lap while she watched him. When she finally be- 
came curious enough to decipher the name of the 
book she had three or four in that dull, brown bind- 
ing and saw that he was reading The Ring and ihe 
Book, she felt stunned. She read Browning just as she 
drank sage tea; it was supposed to be good for her. 
Her English teacher had given her that book. She 
never would have believed that any living human could 
read it as Ward Warren was reading it now; avidly, 
absorbedly, lost to his surroundings to her own pres- 



40 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

ence, if you please ! Billy Louise glanced at her mother. 
That lady, having discovered that her guest's gloves 
needed mending, was working over them with pieces 
of Indian-tanned buckskin and beeswaxed thread, the 
picture of domestic content. 

Billy Louise sighed. She shifted her chair. She 
got up and put a heavy chunk of wood on the fire and 
glanced over her shoulder at the man to see if he were 
going to take the hint and offer to help. She came 
back and stood close to him while she selected, with 
great deliberation, a book from the shelf beside his 
head. And Ward Warren, perfectly normal and not 
over twenty-five or so, pushed his chair out of her 
way with a purely mechanical movement, and read 
and read, and actually was too absorbed to feel her near- 
ness. And he really was reading The Ring and the 
Book; Billy Louise was rude enough to look over his 
shoulder to make sure of that. She gave up, then, and 
though she picked a book at random from the shelf, 
she did not attempt to read it. She went to her room 
and made it readj for their guest, and after that she 
went to bed in her mother's room ; and she thought and 
thought and did a lot of wondering about Life and 
about Ward Warren. She heard him go to bed, after 
a long while, and she wondered if he had finished the 
book first. 

The next morning the blizzard raged so that he 
stayed as a matter of course. Peter Howling Dog had 
not returned, so Warren did the chores and would not 
let Billy Louise help with anything. He filled the 
wood-box, piled great chunks of wood by the fireplace, 
and saw that the water-pails were full to the icy brims. 



BOOK, BANNOCK, AND BED 41 

lie talked a little, and Billy Louise discovered that he 
was quick to see a joke, and that he simply could not 
be caught napping, but had always a retort ready for 
her. That was true until after dinner, when he picked 
up a book again. When that happened, he was dead to 
, orld bounded by the coulee walls, and he did not 
show any symptoms of consciousness until he had* 
reached the last page, just when the light was growing 
Jim and blurring the lines so that he must hold the 
pages within six inches of his eyes. He closed the 
book with a long breath, placed it accurately upon the 
.shelf where it had stood since Billy Louise came home 
from school, and picked up his hat and gloves. It was 
time to wade out through the snow and feed the stock 
and bring in more wood. 

" I wish we could get him to stay all winter, instead 
of tliat Peter Howling Dog," Mrs. MacDonald said 
anxiously, after he had gone out. " I just know Peter 's 
off drinking. I don't think he 's a safe man to Have 
around, Billy Louise. I did n't when you hired him. 
I have n't felt easy a minute with him on the place. 
I wish you 'd hire Mr. Warren, Billy Louise. He 's 
nice and quiet " 

" And he 's got a ranch of his own. He does n't 
strike me as a man who wants a job milking two cows 
and carrying slop to the pigs, mommie." 

" Well, I 'd feel a lot easier if we had him instead 
of that breed ; only we ain't even got the breed, half 
the time. This is the third time he 's disappeared, in 
the two months we 've had him. I really think you 
ought to speak to Mr. Warren, Billy Louise." 

" Speak to him yourself. You 're the one that wants 



42 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

him," Billy Louise answered somewhat sharply. She 
adored her mother; but if she had to run the ranch, 
she did wish her mother would not interfere and give 
advice just at the wrong time. 

" Well, you need n't be cross about it ; you know 
yourself that Peter can't be depended on a minute. 
There he went off yesterday and never fed the pigs 
their noon slop, and I had to carry it out myself. And 
my lumbago has bothered me ever since, just like it 
was going to give me another spell. You can't be here 
all the time, Billy Louise leastways you ain't; and 
Peter " 

" Oh, good gracious, mommie ! I told you to hire 
the man if you want him. Only Ward Warren 
isn't " 

Ward Warren pushed open the door and looked from 
one to the other, his eyes two question marks. " Is n't 
what ? " he asked and shut the door behind him with 
the air of one who is ready for anything. 

" Is n't the kind of man who wants to hire out to do 
chores," Billy Louise finished and looked at him 
straight. " Are you ? Mommie wants to hire you." 

" Oh. Well, I was just about to ask for the job, 
anyway." He laughed, and the distrust left his eyes. 
" As a matter of fact, I was going over to Jim Larson's 
to hang out for the rest of the winter and get away 
from the lonesomeness of the hills. The old Turk 's a 
pretty good friend of mine. But it looks to me as if 
you two needed something around that looks like a man 
a heap more than Jim does. I know Peter Howling 
Dog to a f are-you-well ; you '11 be all to the good if he 
forgets to come back. So if you '11 stake me to a meal 



BOOK, BANNOCK, AND BED 43 

now and then, and a place to sleep, I '11 be glad to see 
you through the winter or until you get some white 
man to take my place." He took up the two water- 
pails and waited, glancing from one to the other with 
that repressed smile which Billy Louise was beginning 
to look for in his face. 

Now that matters had approached the point of de- 
cision, her mother stood looking at her helplessly, 
waiting for her to speak. Billy Louise drew herself 
up primly and ended by contradicting the action. She 
gave him the sidelong glance which he was least pre- 
pared to withstand though in justice to Billy Louise, 
she was absolutely unconscious of its general effective- 
ness and twisted her lips whimsically. 

" We '11 stake you to a book, a bannock, and a bed 
if you want to stay, Mr. Warren," she said quite soberly. 
" Also to a pitchfork and an axe, if you like, and 
regular wages." 

His eyes went to her and steadied there with the 
intent expression in them. " Thanks. Cut out the 
wages, and I '11 take the offer just as it stands," he 
told her and pulled his hat farther down on his head. 
" She 's going to be one stormy night, lay-dees," he 
added in quite another tone, on his way to the door. 
" Five o'clock by the town clock, and al-11 's well ! " 
This last in still another tone, as he pushed out against 
the swooping wind and pulled the door shut with a 
slam. They heard him whistling a shrill, rollicking 
air on his way to the creek ; at least, it sounded rollick- 
ing, the way he whistled it. 

" That 's The Old Chisholm Trail he 's whistling," 
Billy Louise observed under her breath, smiling remi- 



44 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

niscently. " The very song I used to pretend he always 
sang when he came down the canyon to rescue Minervy 
and me ! But of course I knew all the time he 's a 
cowboy; it said so " 

The whistling broke and he began to sing at the top 
of a clear, strong-lunged voice, that old, old trail song 
beloved of punchers the West over : 

" Oh, it 's cloudy in the West and a-lookin' like rain, 
And my damned old slicker 's in the wagon again, 
Coma ti yi youpy, youpy-a, youpy-a, 
Coma ti yi youpy, youpy-a! " 

" What did you say, Billy Louise ? I 'm sure it 's a 
comfort to have him here, and you see he was glad and 
willing " 

But Billy Louise was holding the door open half an 
inch, listening and slipping back into the child-world 
wherein Ward Warren came singing down the canyon 
to rescue her and Minervy. The words came gustily 
from the creek down the slope: 

" No chaps, no slicker, and a-pourin' down rain, 
And I swear by the Lord I '11 never night-herd again, 
Coma ti yi youpy, youpy-a, youpy-a, 
Coma ti yi youpy, youpy-a! 

" Feet in the stirrups and seat in the saddle, 
I hung and rattled with them long-horn cattle, 
Coma ti yi " 

" Do shut the door, Billy Louise ! What you want to 
stand there like that for ? And the wind freezing every- 
thing inside ! I can feel a terrible draught on my feet 
and ankles, and you know what that leads to." 

So Billy Louise closed the door and laid another 



BOOK, BANNOCK, AND BED 45 

alder root on the coals in the fireplace, the while her 
mind was given over to dreamy speculations, and the 
words of that old trail song ran on in her mejnory 
though she could 110 longer hear him singing. Her 
mother talked on about Peter and the storm and this 
man who had ridden straight from the land of day- 
dreams to her door, but the girl was not listening. 

" Now ain't you relieved, yourself, that he 's going 
to stay?" 

Billy Louise, kneeling on the hearth and staring 
abstractedly into the fire, came back with a jerk to 
reality. The little smile that had been in her eyes 
and on her lips fled back with the dreams that had 
brought it. She gave her shoulders an impatient 
twitch and got up. 

" Oh I guess he '11 be more agreeable to have 
around than Peter," she admitted taciturnly; which 
was as close to her real opinion of the man as a mere 
mother might hope to come. 



CHAPTER IV 



WARD WARREN sat before the fireplace with 
a cigarette long gone cold in his fingers and 
stared into the blaze until the blaze died to bright- 
glowing coals, and the coals filmed and shrank down 
into the bed of ashes. Billy Louise had spoken to him 
twice, and he had not answered. She had swept all 
around him, and he had shifted his feet out of her 
way, and later his chair, like a man in his sleep who 
turns from an unaccustomed light or draws the covers 
over shoulders growing chilled, without any real con- 
sciousness of what he does. Billy Louise put away the 
broom, hung the dustpan on its nail behind the door, and 
stood looking at Ward curiously and with some resent- 
ment; this was not the first time he had gone into fits 
of abstraction as deep as his absorption in the books 
lie read so hungrily. He had been at the Wolverine a 
month, and they were pretty well acquainted by now 
and inclined to friendliness when Ward threw off his 
moodiness and his air of holding himself ready for 
some affront which he seemed to expect. But for all 
that the distrust never quite left his eyes, and there 
were times like this when he was absolutely oblivious 
to her presence. 

Billy Louise suddenly lost patience. She stooped 
and picked up a bit of bark the size of her thumb and 



" USED FOR A FOOTBALL " 47 

threw it at Ward, with a little, vexed twist of her lips. 
She had a fine accuracy of aim she hit him on the 
nape of the neck, just where his hair came down in a 
queer little curly " cow-lick " in the middle. 

Ward jumped up and whirled, and when he faced 
Billy Louise he had a gun gripped in the fingers that 
had held the cigarette so loosely. In his eyes was the 
glare which a man turns upon his deadliest enemy, per- 
haps, but seldom indeed upon a girl. So they faced 
each other, while Billy Louise backed against the wall 
and took two sharp breaths. 

Ward relaxed; a shamed flush reddened his whole 
face. He shoved the gun back inside the belt of his 
trousers Billy Louise had never dreamed that he 
carried any weapon save his haughty aloofness of man- 
ner and with a little snort of self-disgust dropped 
back into the chair. N He did not stare again into the 
fire, however; he folded his arms upon the high chair- 
back and laid his face down upon them, like a woman 
who is hurt to the point of tears and yet will not weep. 
His booted feet were thrust toward the dying coals, his 
whole attitude spoke of utter desolation of a loneli- 
ness beyond words. 

Billy Louise set her teeth hard together to keep back 
the tears of sympathy. Suffering of any sort always 
wrung the tender heart of her. But suffering like this 
never in her life had she seen anything like it. She 
had seen her father angry, discouraged, morose. She 
had seen men fight. She had soothed her mother's 
grief, which expressed itself in tears and lamentations. 
But this hidden hurt, this stoical suffering that she had 
seen often and often in Ward's eyes and that sent his 



48 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

head down now upon his arms She went to him and 
laid her two hands on his shoulders without even think- 
ing that this was the first time she had ever touched 
him. 

" Don't ! " she said, half whispering so that she would 
not waken her mother, in bed with an attack of lum- 
bago. "I I did n't know. Ward, listen to me ! 
Whatever it is, can't you tell me? You I'm your 
friend. Don't look as if you you had n't a friend 
on earth ! " 

Still he did not move or give any sign that he heard. 
Billy Louise had no thought of coquetry. Her heart 
ached with pity and a longing to help him. She slid 
one hand up and pinched his ear, just as she would 
playfully tweak the ear of a child. 

" Ward, you must n't. I Ve seen you think and 
think and look as if you had n't a friend on earth. 
You must n't. I suppose you Ve got loffc of friends 
who 'd stand by you through anything. Anyway, 
you Ve got me, and I understand all about it." 
She whispered those last words, and her heart thumped 
heavily with trepidation after she had spoken. 

Ward raised his head, caught one of her hands and 
held it fast while he looked deep into her eyes. He 
was searching, questioning, measuring, and he was 
doing it without uttering a word. The plummet dropped 
straight into the clear, sweet depths of her soul. If it 
did not reach the bottom, he was satisfied with the 
soundings he took. He drew a deep breath and gave 
her hand a little squeeze and let it go. 

" Did I scare you ? I 'm sorry," he said, speaking 
in a hushed tone because of the woman in the next 



" USED FOR A FOOTBALL " 49 

room. " I was thinking about a man I may meet some 
day ; and if I do meet him, the chances are I '11 kill 
him. I did n't I forgot where I was " He 
threw out a hand in a gesture that amply completed 
explanation and apology and fumbled in his pocket for 
tobacco and papers. Abstractedly he began the making 
of a cigarette. 

Billy Louise put wood on the fire, pulled up a squar2, 
calico-padded stool, and sat down. She waited, and 
she had the wisdom to wait in complete silence. 

Ward leaned forward with a twig in his hand, got 
it ablaze, and lighted his cigarette. He did not look 
at Billy Louise until he had taken a whiff or two. 
Then he stared at her for a full minute, and ended by 
flipping the charred twig playfully into her lap, and 
laughing a little because she jumped. 

" What made you catch your breath when I told my 
name that night I came ( " he asked quizzically, but 
with a tensity behind the lightness of his tone and be- 
hind the little smile in his eyes as well. " Where had 
you ever heard of me before ? " 

Billy Louise gasped again, sent a lightning-thought 
into the future, and answered more casually than she 
had hoped she could. 

;< When I was a kid I ran across the name some- 
where and I used it to play with " 

" Yes ? " 

'* You know I was always making believe differ- 
ent things. I never had anyone to play with in my 
life, so I had a pretend-girl, named Minervy. And I 
had you. I used to have you rescue us from Indians 
and things; but mostly you were a road-agent or a 



50 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

robber, and when you were n't holding me or Minervy 
for ransom, I was generally leading you over some most 
ungodly trails, saving you from posses and things. I 
used," said Billy Louise, forcing a laugh, " to have 
some wild old times with you, believe me! So when 
you told your name, why it was just like you 
know ; it was exactly like having a doll come to life ! " 

He eyed her fixedly until she tingled with nervous- 
ness. 

" Yes and what about understanding all about 
it 2 Do you ? " He drew in his under lip, let it go, 
and drew it again between his teeth, while he frowned 
at her thoughtfully. " Do you understand all about 
it ? " he insisted, leaning toward her and never once 
taking that boring gaze from her face. 

"I well, I do some of it anyway." Billy 
Louise lifted a hand spasmodically to her throat. 
This was digging deeper into the agonies of life than 
she had ever gone before. " What was in the paper," 
she whispered later, as if his eyes were drawing it 
from her by force. 

" What was that ? What did it say ? " 

"I I what difference does it make, what it 
said ? " Billy Louise turned imploring eyes upon him. 
Her breath was coming fast and uneven. " It does n't 
matter to me in the least. It did n't say much. 
I can't tell exactly " She was growing white 
around the mouth. The horror of being compelled to 
say, out loud and to him! 

" I did n't know there was a woman in the world 
like you," Ward said irrelevantly and looked into the 
fire. " I thought women were just soft things a man 



" USED FOR A FOOTBALL " 51 

had to take care of and carry along through life, a 
dead weight when they were n't worse. I never knew 
a woman could be a friend the kind of friend a man 
can be." He threw his cigarette into the fire and 
watched the paper shrivel swiftly and the tobacco turn 
into a thin/ blue smoke-spiral. 

" Life 's a queer thing," he said, taking a different 
angle. " I started out with big notions about the 
things I'd do. Maybe I started wrong, but for a kid 
with nobody to point the trail for him, I don't think 
I did so worse till old Dame Fortune spotted me in 
the crowd and proceeded to use me for a football." He 
leaned an elbow on one knee and stared hard at a burn- 
ing brand that was getting ready to fall and send up a 
stream of sparks. Then he turned his head quite unex- 
pectedly and looked at Billy Louise. " What was it 
you read ? " he asked abruptly. 

"I don't like to say it," she whispered un- 
steadily. 

" Well, you need n't. I '11 say it for you, when I 
come to it. There 7 s a lot before that." 

Ward Warren had never before opened his soul to 
any human; not completely. Perhaps, sitting that 
evening in the deepening dusk, with the firelight light- 
ing swiftly the brooding face of the girl and afterward 
veiling it softly with shadows, perhaps even then there 
were desolate places in his life which his words did 
not touch. But so much as a man may put into words, 
Ward told her ; more, a great deal more, than he would 
ever tell to any other woman as long as he lived. More 
perhaps than he would ever tell to any man. And in 
it all there was no word of love. It was of what lay 



52 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

behind him that he talked. The low, even murmur 
of his voice was broken by long, brooding silences, when 
the two stared into the shifting flames and saw there the 
things his words had conjured. Sometimes the eyes of 
Billy Louise were soft with sympathy. Sometimes 
they were wide and held the light of horror. Once, 
with a small sob that had no tears, she reached out and 
clutched his arm. " Oh, don't ! " she gasped. " Don't 
go on telling I I can't bear to listen to that ! " 

" It is n't nice for a woman to listen to, I guess/* 
Ward gritted. " I know it was hell to stand, but 
He was silent so long after that, and his eyes grew so 
intent and so somber while he stared, that Billy Louise 
pulled at his sleeve to recall him. 

" Skip that part and tell me " 

Ward took up the story and told her much; more 
than she had ever dreamed could be. I can't repeat 
any of it; what he said was for Billy Louise to know 
and none other. 

It was late when she finally rose from the stool 
and lighted the lamp because her mother woke and 
called to her. Ward went out to turn the horses into 
the stable and fasten the door. He should have shel- 
tered them two hours before. Billy Louise should long 
ago have made tea and toast for her mother, for that 
matter. But when life's big, bitter problems confront 
one, little things are usually forgotten. 

They came back to everyday realities, though the 
spell which Ward's impulsive unburdening had woven 
still wrapped them in that close companionship of com- 
plete understanding. They played checkers for an 
hour or so and then went to bed. Billy Louise lay in 



" USED FOR A FOOTBALL " 53 

a waking nightmare because of all the hard things 
she had heard about life. Ward stared up into the 
dark and could not lose himself in sleep, because he had 
opened the door upon the evil places in his memory 
and let out all the trooping devils that lived there. 

After that, though there was never any word of love 
between them, Billy Louise, with the sure instinct of 
a woman innately pure, watched unobtrusively for 
signs of those fits of bitter brooding; watched and drove 
them off with various weapons of her own. Sometimes 
she cheerfully declared that she was bored to death, and 
was n't Ward just dying for a game of " rob casino " ? 
Sometimes she simply teased him into retaliation. Fre- 
quently she insisted that he repeat the things he had 
learned by heart, of poetry or humorous prose, for his 
memory was almost uncanny in its tenacity. She dis- 
covered quite early, and by accident, that she had only 
to shake her head in a certain way and declaim : " Ali, 
Tarn, noo, Tarn, thou 'It get thy faring In hell they '11 
roast thee like a herring," she had only to say that 
to make him laugh and repeat the whole of Tarn 
O'Shanter's Ride with a perfectly devilish zest for 
poor Tarn's misfortunes, and an accent which made her 
suspect who were his ancestors. 

Billy Louise meant only to wean him from his bitter- 
ness against Life, and to convince him, by a somewhat 
roundabout method since at heart she was scared to 
death of his aloofness, that he was not " old lady For- 
tune's football " as he sometimes pessimistically de- 
clared. At thirteen she had mixed him with her 
dreams and led him by difficult trails to safety from 
the imaginary enemies that pursued him. At nineteen 



54 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

she unconsciously mixed him with her life and led 
nim more surely than in her dreams, and by a far 
more difficult trail, had she only known it safe away 
from the devils of memory and a distrust of life that 
pursued him more relentlessly than any human foe. 

She only meant to wean him from pessimism and 
rebuild within him a healthy appetite for life. If she 
did more than that, she did not know it then ; for Ward 
Warren had learned, along with other hard lessons, the 
art of keeping his thoughts locked safely away, and of 
using his face as a mask to hide even the doorway to 
his real self. Only his eyes turned traitors sometimes 
when he looked at Billy Louise; though she, being a 
somewhat self-centered young person, never quite read 
what they tried to betray. 

She took him up the canyon and showed him her 
cave and Minervy's. And she had the doubtful satis- 
faction of seeing him doubled over the saddle-horn in a 
paroxysm of laughter when she led him to the historical 
washout and recounted the feat of the dead Indians 
with which he had made a safe passing for her. 

" Well, they did it in history," she defended at last, 
her cheeks redder than was perfectly normal. " I read 
about it at Waterloo when the Duke of Welling- 
ton was n't it ? You need n't laugh as if it could n't, 
be done. It was that sunken-road business put it into 
my head in the first place; and I think you ought to 
feel flattered." 

" I do," gasped Ward, wiping his eyes. " Say, I was 
some bandit, was n't I, William Louisa ? " 

Billy Louise looked at him sidewise. " No, yon 
weren't any bandit at all then. You were a kind 



" USED FOR A FOOTBALL " 55 

scout, that time. I was here, all surrounded by In- 
dians and saying the Lord's prayer with my hair all 
down my back like mommie's Rock of Ages picture 
will you shut up laughing ? and you came riding up 
that draw over there on a big, black horse named Sul- 
tan (You need n't snort ; I still think Sultan 's a dandy 
name for a horse!). And you hollered to me to get 
behind that rock, over there. And I quit at * Forgive 
us our debts ' daddy always had so many ! and 
hiked for the rock. And you commenced shooting 
Oh, I 'm not going to tell you a single other pretend ! " 
She sulked then, which was quite as diverting as the 
most hair-raising " pretend " she had ever told him and 
held Ward's attention unflaggingly until they were 
half way home. 

" Sing the Chisholm Trail/' she commanded, when 
her temper was sunshiny again. This had been a par- 
ticularly moody day for Ward, and Billy Louise felt 
that extra effort was required to rout the memory-devils. 
" Daddy knew a little of it, and old Jake Summers 
used to sing more, but I never did hear it all." 

" Ladies don't, as a general thing," Ward replied, 
biting his lips. 

''Why? I know there's about forty verses, and 
some of them are kind of sweary ones; but go ahead 
and sing it. I don't mind damn now and then." 

This sublime innocence was also diverting, even to a 
man haunted by the devils of memory. Ward's lips 
twitched, and a flush warmed his cheek-bones at the 
mere thought of singing it all in her presence. " I '11 
sing all of Sam Bass, if you like," he temporized, with 
a grin. 



56 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" Oh, I hate Sam Bass! We had a Dutchman work- 
ing for us when I was just a kid, and he was forever 
bawling out: ' Sa-am Pass was porn in Injiaay, it was-s 
hiss natiff ho-o-ome ! ' 

Billy Louise was a pretty good mimic. She had 
Ward doubled over the horn again and shouting so 
that the canyon walls roared echoes for three full min- 
utes. " I 've always wanted to hear the Chisholm Trail. 
I know how it was sung from Mexico north on the old 
cattle-trails, and how every ambitious puncher who had 
enough imagination and could make a rhyme, added a 
verse or so, till it 's really a a classic of the cow- 
camps." 

" Ye-es it sure is all that." Ward eyed her fur- 
tively. 

" And with that memory of yours, I simply know 
that you can sing every single word of it," Billy Louise 
went on pitilessly and innocently. " You 're a cow- 
puncher yourself, and you must have heard it all, at 
one time and another; and I don't believe you ever 
forgot a thing in your life." She caught her breath 
there, conscience-stricken, and added hastily and im- 
periously, "So go on begin at the beginning and 
sing it all. I '11 keep tab and see if you sing forty 
verses." And she prompted coaxingly: 

" Come along, boys, and listen to my tale, 
I '11 tell you of my troubles on the old Chisholm trail, 
Coma ti yi " 

and nodded her head approvingly when Ward took up 
the ditty where she left off and sang it with the rol- 
licking enthusiasm which only a man who has soothed 



" USED FOR A FOOTBALL " 57 

restless cattle on a stormy night can put into the dog- 
gerel. 

lie did not sing the whole forty verses, for good and 
sufficient reasons best known to punchers themselves. 
But, with swift, shamed skipping of certain lines and 
some hasty revisions, he actually did sing thirty, and 
Billy Louise was so engrossed that she forgot to count- 
them and never suspected the omissions; for some of 
the verses were quite " sweary " enough to account for 
his hesitation. 

The singing of those thirty verses brought a remi- 
niscent mood upon the singer. For the rest of the way, 
which they rode at a walk, Ward sat very much upon 
one side of the saddle, with his body facing Billy Louise 
and his foot dangling free of the stirrup, and told her 
tales of trail-herds, and the cow-camps, and of funny 
things that had happened on the range. His "I re- 
member one time " opened the door to a more fascinat- 
ing world than Billy Louise's dream-world, because this 
other world was real. 

So, from pure accident, she hit upon the most effec- 
tive of all weapons with which to fight the nfemory- 
devils. She led Ward to remembering the pleasanter 
parts of his past life and to telling her of them. 

When spring came at last, and he rode regretfully 
back to his claim on Mill Creek, he was not at all the 
morose Ward Warren who had ridden down to the 
Wolverine that stormy night in January. The distrust 
had left his eyes, and that guarded remoteness was 
gone from his manner. He thought and he planned as 
other men thought and planned, and looked into the 
future eagerly, and dreamed dreams of his own ; dreams 



58 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE. 

that brought the hidden smile often to his lips and 
his eyes. 

Still, the thing those dreams were built upon was 
yet locked tight in his heart, and not even Billy Louise, 
whose instinct was so keen and so sure in all things else, 
knew anything of them or of the bright-hued hope they 
were built upon. Fortune's football was making ready 
to fight desperately to become captain of the game, that 
he might be something more to Billy Louise. 



CHAPTER V 

MAETHY BURIES HER DEAD AND GREETS HER NEPHEW - 

JASE did not move or give his customary, querulous 
grunt when Marthy nudged him at daylight, one 
morning in mid-April. Marthy gave another poke with 
her elbow and lay still, numbed by a sudden dread. 
She moved cautiously out of the bed and half across 
the cramped room before she turned her head toward 
him. Then she stood still and looked and looked, her 
hard face growing each moment more pinched and 
stony and gray. 

<ase had died while the coyotes were yapping their 
dawn-song up on the rim of the Cove. He lay rigid 
under the coarse, gray blanket, the flesh of his face 
drawn close to the bones, his skimpy, gray beard tilted 
upward. 

Marthy 's jaw set into a harsher outline than ever. 
She dressed with slow, heavy movements and went out 
and fed the stock. In stolid calm she did the milking 
and turned out the cows into the pasture. She gath- 
ered an apron full of chips and started a fire, just as 
she had done every morning for twenty-nine years, and 
she put the coffee-pot on the greasy stove and boiled 
the brew of yesterday which was also her habit. 

She sat for some time with her- head leaning upon 
her grimj hand and stared unseeingly out upon a 



60 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

peach-tree in full bloom, and at a pair of busy robins 
who had chosen a convenient crotch for their nest. 
Finally she rose stiffly, as if she had grown older 
within the last hour, and went outside to the place 
where she had been mending the irrigating ditch the 
day before; she knocked the wet sand off the shovel 
she had left sticking in the soft bank and went out of 
the yard and up the slope toward the rock wall. 

On a tiny, level place above the main ditch and just 
under the wall, Marthy began to dig, setting her broad, 
flat foot uncompromisingly upon the shoulder of the 
shovel and sending it deep into the yellow soil. She 
worked slowly and methodically and steadily, just as 
she did everything else. When she had dug down as 
deep as she could and still manage to climb out, and 
had the hole wide enough and long enough, she got 
awkwardly to the grassy surface and sat for a long while 
upon a rock, staring dumbly at the gaunt, brown hills 
across the river. 

She returned to the cabin at last, and with the 
manner of one who dreads doing what must be done, 
she went in where Jase lay stiff and cold under the 
blankets. 

Early that afternoon, Marthy went staggering up the 
slope, wheeling Jase's body before her on the creaky, 
Lome-made wheelbarrow. In the same harsh, primitive 
manner in which they both had lived, Marthy buried 
her dead. And though in life she had given him few 
words save in command or upbraiding, with never a 
hint of love to sweeten the days for either, yet she 
went whimpering away from that grave. She broke off 
three branches of precious peach blossoms and carried 



MARTHY BURIES HER DEAD 61 

them up the slope. She stuck them upright in the 
lumpy soil over Jase's head and stood there a long 
while with tear-streaked face, staring down at the grave 
and at the nodding pink blossoms. 

tf 

Billy Louise rode singing down the rocky trail 
through the deep, narrow gorge, to where the hawthorn^ 
and choke-cherries hid the opening to the cove. Just 
on the edge of the thickest fringe, she pulled up and 
broke off tender branches of cherry bloom, then went 
on, still singing softly to herself because the air was 
sweet with spring odors, the sunshine lay a fresh 
yellow upon the land, and because the joy of life was 
in her blood and, like the birds, she had no other means 
of expression at hand. Blue's feet sank to the fet- 
locks in the rich, black soil of the little meadow that 
lay smooth to the tumbling sweep of the river behind 
its own little willow fringe. His ears perked forward, 
his eyes rolling watchfully for strange sights and 
sounds, he stepped softly forward, ready to wheel at 
the slightest alarm and gallop back up the gorge to 
more familiar ground. It was long since Billy Louise 
had turned his head down the rocky trail, and Blue 
liked little the gloom of the gorge and the sudden change 
to soft, black soil that stopped just short of being boggy 
in the wet places. Where the trail led into a marshy 
crossing of the big, irrigating ditch that brought the 
stream from far up the gorge to water meadow and 
orchard, Blue halted and cast a look of disapproval 
back at his rider. Billy Louise stopped singing and 
laughed at him. 

" I guess you can go where a cow can go, you silly 



62 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

thing. Mud 's a heap easier than lava rock, if you 
only knew it, Blue. Get along with you." 

Blue lowered his head, snuffed suspiciously at the 
water-filled tracks, and would have turned back. Mud 
he despised instinctively, since he had nearly mired on 
the creek bank when he was a sucking colt. 

" Blue ! Get across that ditch, or I '11 beat you to 
death ! " The voice of Billy Louise was soft with a 
caressing note at the end, so that the threat did not 
sound very savage, after all. She sniffed at the branch 
of cherry blossoms and reined the horse back to face 
the ditch. And Blue, who had a will of his own, 
snorted and wheeled, this time in frank rebellion against 
her command. 

" Oh, will you ? Well, you '11 cross that ditch, you 
know, sooner or later so you might just as well 
Blue reared and whirled again, plunging two rods back 
toward the cherry thicket. 

Billy Louise set her teeth against her lower lip, slid 
her rawhide quirt from slim wrist to firm hand-grip, 
and proceeded to match Blue's obstinacy with her own ; 
and since the obstinacy of Billy Louise was stronger 
and finer and backed by a surer understanding of the 
thing she was fighting against, Blue presently lifted 
himself, leaped the ditch in one clean jump, and 
snorted when he sank nearly to his knees in the soft, 
black soil beyond. 

From there to the pink drift of peach bloom against 
the dull brown of the bluff, Blue galloped angrily, leav- 
ing deep, black prints in the soft green of the meaddw. 
So they came headlong upon Marthy, just as she was 



MARTHY BURIES HER DEAD 63 

knocking the yellow clay of the grave from her irrigat- 
ing shovel against the pole fence of her pig-pen. 

u Why, Marthj ! " Once before in her life 'Billy 
Louise had seen Marthy's chin quivering like that, and 
big, slow tears sliding down the network of lines on 
Marthy's leather/ cheeks. With a painful slump her 
spirits went heavy with her sympathy. " Marthy ! " 

She knew without a word of explanation just what 
had happened. From Marthy's bent shoulders sfye 
knew, and from her tear-stained face, and from the yel- 
low soil clinging still to the shovel in her hand. The 
Avide eyes of Billy Louise sent seeking glances up the 
slope where the soil was yellow; went to the long, raw 
ridge under the wall, with the peach blossoms standing 
pitifully awry upon the western end. Her eyes filled 
with tears. " Oh, Marthy ! When was it ? " 

" In the night, sometime, I guess." Marthy's voice 
had a harsh huskiness. " He was gone when I 
woke up. Well he 's better off than I be. I dunno 
what woulda become of him if I 'd went first." There, 
at last, was a note of tenderness, stifled though it was 
and fleeting. " Git down, Billy Louise, and come in. 
I been kinda lookin' for yuh to come, ever sence the 
weather opened up. How 's your maw ? " 

Spoken sympathy was absolutely impossible in the 
face of that stoical acceptance of life's harsh law. 
Marthy turned toward the gate, taking the shovel and 
the wheelbarrow in with her. Billy Louise glanced 
furtively at the raw, yellow ridge under the rock wall 
and rode on to the stable. She pulled off the saddle 
and bridle and turned Blue into the corral before she 
went slowly and somewhat reluctantly to the 



64 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

cabin, squat, old, and unkempt like its mistress, but 
buried deep in the renewed sweetness of bloom-time. 

" The fruit 's comin' on early this year," said Marthy 
from the doorway, her hands on her hips. " They 's 
goin' to be lots of it, too, if we don't git a killin' frost." 
So she closed the conversational door upon her sorrow 
and pointed the way to trivial, every-day things. 

" What are you going to do now, Marthy ? " Billy 
Louise was perfectly capable of opening a conversational 
door, even when it had been closed decisively in her 
face. " You can't get on here alone, you know. Did 
you send for that nephew ? If you have n't, you must 
hire somebody till " 

" He 's comin'. That letter you sent over last month 
was from him. I dunno when he '11 git here ; he 's liable 
to come most any time. I ain't going to hire nobody. 
I kin git along alone. I might as well of been alone ' 
Even harsh Marthy hesitated and did not finish the 
sentence that would have put a slight upon her dead. 

" I '11 stay to-night, anyway," said Billy Louise. 
" Just a week ago I hired John Pringle and that little 
breed wife of his for the summer. I could n't afford 
it," she added, with a small sigh, " but Ward had to go 
back to his claim, and mommie needs someone in the 
house. She has n't been a bit well, all winter. And 
I 've turned all the stock out for the summer and have 
to do a lot of riding on them ; it 's that or let them 
scatter all over the country and then have to hire a 
rep for every round-up. I can't afford that, I have n't 
got cattle enough to pay; and I like to ride, anyway. 
I've got them pretty well located along the creek, up 
at the head of the canyons. The grass is coming on 



MARTHY BURIES HER DEAD 65 

fine, so they don't stray much. Are you going to turn 
your cattle out, Marthy ? I see you have n't yet." 

" No, I ain't yit. I dunno. I was going to sell 'em 
down to jest what the pasture '11 keep. I 'm gittin' too 
old to look^ after 'em. But I dunno When Charlie 
gits here, mebby " 

" Oh, is that the nephew ? I did n't know his name."" 
Billy Louise was talking aimlessly to keep her thoughts 
away from the pitifulness of the sordid little tragedy in 
this beauty-spot and to drive that blank, apathetic look 
from Marthy's hard eyes. 

" Charlie Fox, his name is. I hope he turns out a 
good worker. I 've never had a chance to git ahead any ; 
but if Charlie '11 jest take holt, I '11 mebby git some 
comfort outa life yit." 

" He ought to, I 'm sure. And everyone thinks 
you 've done awfully well, Marthy. What can I do 
now? Wash the dishes and straighten things up, I 
guess." 

" You need n't do nothin' you ain't a mind to do, 
Billy Louise. I don't want you to think you got to slop 
around washin' my dirty dishes. I 'm goin' on down 
into the medder and work on a ditch I 'm puttin' in. 
You jest do what you 're a mind to." She picked 
up the shovel and went off down the jungly path, her- 
self the ugliest object in the Cove, where she had 
created so much beauty. 

Again the sympathetic soul of Billy Louise had be- 
trayed her into performing an extremely disagreeable 
task. Shudderingly she looked into the unpleasant 
bedroom, and comprehending all of the sordidness of 
the tragedy, spent half an hour with her teeth set hard 



66 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

together while she dragged out dingy blankets and hung 
them over the fence under a voluptuous plum-tree. The 
next hour was so disagreeably employed that she won- 
dered afterward how even her sympathy could have 
driven her to the things she did. She carried more 
water, after she had scrubbed that bedroom, and opened 
the window with the aid of the hammer, and set the 
tea-kettle on to heat the dish-water. Then, because her 
mind was full of poor, dead Jase, she took the branches 
of wild cherry and hawthorn blossoms she had gathered 
coming down the gorge and went up the slope to lay 
them on his grave. 

She sat down on the rock where Marthy had rested 
after digging the grave, and with her chin in her two 
cupped palms, stared out across the river at the heaped 
bluffs and down at the pink-and-white patch of fruit- 
trees. She was trying, as the young will always try, 
to solve the riddle of life ; and she was baffled and un- 
happy because she could not find any answer at all that 
pleased both her ideals and her reason. And then she 
heard a man's voice lifted up in riotous song, and she 
turned her head toward the opening of the gorge and 
listened, her eyes brightening while she waited. 

" Foot in the stirrup and hand on the horn, 
Best damn cowboy ever was born, 
Coma ti yi youpy, youpy-a, youpy-a, 
Coma ti yi youpy, youpy-a! " 

Billy Louise, with her chin still in her palms, smiled 
and hummed the tune under her breath ; that shows how 
quickly we throw off the burdens of our neighbors. 
" Wonder what he 's doing down here ? " she asked her- 
self, and smiled again. 



MARTHY BURIES HER DEAD 67 

" I '11 sell my outfit soon as I can, 
I won't punch cattle for no damn* man, 
Coma ti yi youpy, youpy-a, youpy-a, 
Coma ti yi youpy, youpy-a! 

" I 'm goin' back to town to draw my money, 
I 'm'going back to town, to see my honey, 
Coma ti yi " 

Ward came into sight through the little meadow, rid- 
ing slowly, with both hands clasped over the horn of the 
saddle, his hat tilted back on his head, and his whole 
attitude one of absolute content with life. He saw 
Billy Louise almost as soon as she glimpsed him and 
she had been watching that bit of road quite closely. He 
flipped the reins to one side and turned from the trail 
to ride straight up the slope to where she was. 

Billy Louise, with a self-reproachful glance at the 
grave, ran down the slope to meet him an unexpected 
welcome which made Ward's heart leap in his chest. 

" Oh, Ward, for heaven's sake don't be singing that 
come-all-ye at the top of your voice, like that. Don't 
you " 

" K~ow I was given to understand that you liked that 
same come-all-ye. Have you been educating your musi- 
cal taste in the last week, Miss William Louisa ? " 
Ward stopped his horse before her, and with his hands 
still clasped over the saddle-horn, looked down at her 
with that hidden smile and something else. 

<; Xo, I have n't. I don't have to educate myself to 
the point wJiere I know the Chisholm Trail isn't a 
proper kind of funeral hymn, Ward Warren." Billy 
Louise glanced over her shoulder and lowered her voice 
instinctively, as we all do when death has come close 
and stopped. " Jase died last night ; that 's his grave 



68 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

up there. Is n't it perfectly pitiful ? Poor old Marthy 
was here all solitary alone with him. And Ward ! 
She dug that grave her own self, and took him up and 
buried him and, Ward ! She she wheeled him up 
in the wheelbarrow! She had to, of course. Shp 
could n't carry him. But is n't it awful ? " Her hands 
were up, patting and smoothing the neck of his horse, 
and her face was bent to hide the tears that stood in 
her eyes, and the quiver of her mouth. 

Ward drew in his lip, bit it, and let it go. He was 
a man, and he had seen much of tragedy and trouble ; 
also, he did not know Marthy or Jase. His chief 
emotion was one of resentment against anything that 
brought tears to Billy Louise ; she had not hidden them 
from him ; they were the first and most important ele- 
ment in that day's happenings, so far as he was con- 
cerned. He leaned and flipped the end of his reins 
lightly down on her bare head. 

" William Louisa, if you cry about it, I '11 do 
something shocking, most likely. Yes, it 's awful ; a 
whole lot of life is awful. But it 's done, and Mrs. 
Martha appears to be a woman with a whole lot of grit, 
so the chances are she '11 carry her load like a man. 
She '11 be horribly lonesome, down here ! They lived 
alone, did n't they ? " 

" Yes, and they did n't seem to love each other much." 
Billy Louise was not one to gloss over hard facts, even 
in the face of that grave." " Marthy was always kicking 
about him, and he about her. But all the same they 
belonged together; they had lived together more years 
than we are old. And she 's going to miss him awfully." 

Several minutes they stood there, talking, while Billy 



MARTHY BURIES HER DEAD 69 

Louise patted the horse absently, and Ward looked down 
at her and did not miss one little light or shadow in her 
face. He had been alone a whole week, thinking o'f her, 
remember, and his eyes were hungry to the point of 
starvation. - 

" You saw mommie, of course ; you came from 
home ? " 

" No, I did not. I got as far as the creek and saw 
Blue's tracks coming down; so I just sort of trailed 
along, seeing it was mommie's daughter I felt most 
like talking to." 

" Mommie's daughter " laughed a little and in- 
stinctively made a change in the subject. She did not 
see anything strange in the fact that Ward had observed 
and recognized Blue's tracks coming into the gorge. 
She would have observed and recognized instantly the 
tracks made by his horse, anywhere. Those things come 
natural to one who has lived much in the open; and 
there is a certain individuality in the hoof-prints of 
a horse, as any plainsman can testify. 

" I 've got to go in and wash the dishes," she said, 
stepping back from him. " Of course nothing was done 
in the cabin, and I 've been doing a little house-cleaning. 
I guess the dish-water is hot by this time if it has n't 
all boiled away." 

Ward, as a matter of course, tied his horse to the 
fence and went into the cabin with her. He also asked 
her to stake him to a dish-towel, which she did after a 
good deal of rummaging. He stood with his hat on the 
back of his head, a cigarette between his lips, and wiped 
the dishes with much apparent enjoyment. He objected 
strongly to Billy Louise's assertion that she meant to 



70 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

scrub the floor, but when he found her quite obdurate, 
he changed his method without in the least degree yield- 
ing his point, though for diplomatic reasons he ap- 
peared to yield. 

He carried water from the creek and filled the tea- 
kettle, the big iron pot, and both pails. Then, when 
Billy Louise had turned her back upon him, while she 
looked in a dark corner for the mop, he suddenly seized 
her under the arms and lifted her upon the table; and 
before she had finished her astonished gaspings, he 
caught up a pail of water and sloshed it upon the floor 
under her. Then he grinned in his triumph. 

" William Louisa, i ' yja get your feet wet, your 
mommie will take a club to you," he reminded her 
sternly. Whereupon he took the broom and proceeded 
to give that floor a real man's scrubbing, refusing to 
quarrel with Billy Louise, who scolded like a cross old 
woman from the table except when she simply had 
to stop and laugh heartily at his violent method f 
cleaning. 

Ward sloshed and swept and scrubbed. He dug into 
the corners with a grim thoroughness that won reluctant 
approbation from the young woman on the table with 
her feet tucked under her, and he made her forget poor 
old Jase up on the hillside. He scrubbed viciously be- 
hind the door until the water was little better than a 
thin, black mud. 

" You want to come up to my claim some time," he 
said, looking over his shoulder while he rested a minute. 
" I '11 show you how a man keeps house, William Louisa. 
Once a week I pile my two stools on the table, put the 
cat up on the bunk and she looks just about as com- 



MARTHY BURIES HER DEAD 71 

fortable and happy as mommie's daughter looks right 
now and get busy with the broom and good creek 
water." He resettled his hat on the back of his 'head 
and went to work again. " Mill Creek goes dry down 
below, on the days when little Wardie cleans his cabin/' 
he assured her gravely, and damming up a muddy pool 
with the broom, he yanked open the door and swept 
out the water with a perfectly unnecessary flourish, 
just because he happened to be in a very exuberant 
mood. 

Billy Louise gave a squeal of consternation and 
then sat absolutely still, staring round-eyed through the 
doorway. Ward stepped back even his composure 
was slightly jarred and twisted his lips amusedly. 

" Hello," he said, after a few blank seconds. " You 
missed some of it, did n't you ? " His tone was mildly 
commiserating. " Will you come in ? " 

" N-o-o, thank you, I don't believe I will." The 
speaker looked in, however, saw Billy Louise perched 
upon the table, and took off his hat. He was well 
plastered with dirty water that ran down and left 
streaks of mud behind. " I must have gotten off the 
road," he said. " I 'm looking for Mr. Jason Meilke's 
ranch." 

Billy Louise tucked her feet farther under her skirts 
and continued to stare dumbly. Ward, glancing at her 
from the corner of his eyes, stepped considerately be- 
tween her and the stranger so that his broad shoulders 
quite hid her from the man's curious stare. 

" You Ve struck the right place," he said calmly. 
" This is it." He picked up another pail of water and 
sloshed it upon the wet floor to rinse off the mud. 



72 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" Is ah Mrs. Meilke in ? " One could not 
accuse the young man of craning, but he certainly did 
try to get another glimpse of the person on the table 
and failed because of Ward. 

" She 'a down in the meadow," Billy Louise mur- 
mured. 

" She 'a down in the meadow," Ward repeated to 
the bespattered young man. " You just go down past 
the stable and follow on down " he waved a hand 
vaguely before he took up the broom again. " You '11 
find her, all right," he added encouragingly 

" Oh, Ward ! That must be Marthy's nephew. 
What will he think?" 

" Does it matter such ah a deuce of a lot what 
he thinks ? " Ward went on with his interrupted 
scrubbing. 

" His name is Charlie Fox, and he 's been to col- 
lege and he worked in a bank," Billy Louise went on 
nervously. " He 's going to live here with Marthy 
and run the ranch. What must he have thought ! To 
have you sweep all that dirty water on him 

" Oh, not all ! " Ward corrected cheerfully. " Quite 
a lot missed him." 

Billy Louise giggled. " What does he look like, 
Ward ? You stood squarely in the way, so I " 

" He looked," said Ward dispassionately, " like a 
pretty mad young man with nose, eyes, and a mouth, 
and a mole in front of his left ear." 

" He was real polite," said Billy Louise reprovingly, 
" and his voice is nice." 

" Yes ? I mind-read a heap of cussing. The po- 
liteness was all on top." Ward chuckled and swept 



MARTHY BURIES HER DEAD 73 

more water outside. " I expect you saved me a lick- 
ing that time, Miss William the Conqueror." 

"Can you think of any more names to call- me, 
besides my own, I wonder ? " Billy Louise leaned 
and inspected the floor like a chicken preparing to hop 
off its roost." 

" Heaps more." The glow in Ward's eyes was dan- 
gerous to their calm friendship. " Want to hear 
them?" 

" No, I don't. I want to get off this table before 
that college youth comes back to be shocked silly again. 
I want to see if he 's really got a mole in front of 
his ear ! " 

" You know what inquisitiveness did to old lady Lot, 
don't you ? However " He lifted her in his arms, 
and set her down outside the door. " There, Wil- 
hemina ; trot along and see the nice young man." 

Billy Louise sat down on the wheelbarrow, remem- 
bered its latest service, and got up hastily. " I won't 
go a step," she asserted positively. 

Ward had not wanted her to go. He gave her a 
smile and finished off his scrubbing with the mop, which 
he handled with quite surprising skill for a young 
man who seemed more at home in the saddle than any- 
where else. 

" I 'm awfully glad he came, anyway." Billy Louise 
pulled down a budded lilac branch and sniffed at it. 
" I won't have to stay all night, now. I was going 
to." 

" In that case, the young man is welcome as a gold 
mine. Here they come he and Mrs. Martha. You '11 
have to introduce me, Bill-the-Conk ; I have never met 



74 RANCH* AT THE WOLVERINE 

the lady." Ward hastily returned the mop to its corner, 
rolled down his sleeves, and picked up his gloves. Then 
he stepped outside and waited beside Billy Louise, look- 
ing not in the least like a man who has just wiped a 
lot of dishes and scrubbed a floor. 

The nephew, striding along behind Marthy and show- 
ing head and shoulders above her, seemed not to resent 
any little mischance, such as muddy water flirted upon 
him from a broom. He grinned reminiscently as he 
came up, shook hands with the two of them, and did 
not let his glance dwell too long or too often upon Billy 
Louise, nor too briefly upon Ward. 

" You Ve got a splendid place here, Aunt Martha," 
he told the old woman appreciatively. " I 'd no idea 
there was such a little beauty-spot down here. This 
is even more picturesque than that homey-looking ranch 
we passed a few miles back, down in that little val- 
ley. I was hoping that was your ranch when I first 
saw it ; and when I found it was n't, I came near stop- 
ping, anyway. I 'm glad I resisted the temptation, 
now. This is worth coming a long way to see." 

" I ain't never had a chance to do all I wanted to 
with it," said Marthy, with the first hint of apology 
Billy Louise had ever heard from her. " I only had 
one pair" of hands to work with " 

" We '11 fix that part. Don't you worry a minute. 
You 're going to sit in a rocking-chair and give or- 
ders, from now on. And if I can't make good here, 
I ought to be booted all the way up that spooky gorge. 
Is n't that right ? " He turned to Warren with a cer- 
tain air of appraisement behind the unmistakable cor- 
diality of his voice. 



MARTHY BURIES HER DEAD 73 

'' A man ought to make good here, all right," Ward 
agreed neutrally. " It 's a fine place." 

" It ain't as fine as I 'd like to see it," began Marthy 
depreciatingly. 

" As you will see it, let 's say if that does n't sound 
too conceited from a tenderfoot," supplemented the 
nephew, and laid his hand upon her shoulder with. a 
gentle little pat. " Folks, I don't want to seem too 
exuberantly sure of myself, but " he waved a care- 
fully-kept hand eloquently at the luxuriance around 
him, " I 'm all fussed up over this place, honest. 
I thought I was coming to a shack in the middle of 
the sage-brush ; I was primed to buckle down and make 
good even in the desert. And bumping into this sort 
of thing without warning has gone to my alleged brain 
a bit. What I don't know about ranching would fill 
a library ; but there 's this much, anyway. There won't 
be any more ditch-digging for a certain game little lady 
in this Cove." He gave the shoulder another pat, and 
he smiled down at her in a way that made Billy Louise 
blink. And Marthy, who had probably never before 
been called a game little lady, came near breaking 
down and crying before them all. 

When Ward went to the stable after Blue, half an 
hour later, Charlie Fox went with him. His manner 
when they were alone was different ; not so exuberantly 
cheerful more frank and practical. 

" Honest, it floored me completely to see what that 
poor old woman has been up against down here," he 
told Warren, stuffing tobacco into a silver-rimmed, briar 
pipe while Ward saddled Blue. " I don't know a hell 
of a lot about this ranch game; but if that old lady 



76 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

can put it across, I guess I can wobble along some- 
how. Too bad the old man cashed in just now; but 
Aunt Martha as good as told me he was n't much force, 
so maybe I can play a lone hand here as easy as I 
could have done with him. Live near here ? " 

" Fifteen miles or so." Ward was not in his most 
expansive mood, chiefly for the reason that this man was 
a stranger, and of strangers he was inclined to fight 
shy. 

" Oh, well it might have been fifty. I know how 
you fellows measure distances out here. I 'm likely 
to need a little coaching, now and then, if I live up to 
what I just now told the old lady." 

" From all I know of her, you won't need to go out 
of the Cove for advice." 

" Well, that 's right, judging from the looks of things. 
A woman that can go up against a proposition like she 
did to-day and handle it alone, is no mental weakling; 
to say nothing of the way this ranch looks. All right, 
Warren ; I '11 make out alone, I reckon." 

Afterwards, when Ward thought it over, he remem- 
bered gratefully that Charlie Fox had refrained from 
attempting any discussion of Billy Louise or from ask- 
ing any questions even remotely personal. He knew 
enough about men to appreciate the tactful silences of 
the stranger, and when Billy Louise, on the way home, 
predicted that the nephew was going to be a success, 
Ward did not feel like qualifying the verdict. 

" He 's going to be a godsend to the old lady," he 
said. " He seems to have his sights raised to making 
things come easier for her from now on." 

" Well, she certainly deserves it. For a college young 



77 

man the ordinary, smart young man who comes out 
here to astonish the natives he 's almost human. I 
was so afraid that Marthy 'd get him out here and 
then discover he waa a perfect nuisance. So many 
men are." 



CHAPTER VI 

X 

A MATTER OF TWELVE MONTHS OB SO 

OUT in the wide spaces, where homes are but scat- 
tered oases in the general emptiness, life does 
not move uniformly, so far as it concerns incidents or 
acquaintanceships. A man or a ranch may experience 
complete isolation, and the unbroken monotony which 
sometimes accompanies it, for a month at a time. Sum- 
mer work or winter storm may be the barrier tem- 
porarily raised, and life resolves itself into a succes- 
sion of days and nights unbroken by outside influences. 
They leave their mark upon humans these periods 
of isolation. For better, for worse, the man changes 
slowly with the months; he grows more bovine in his 
phlegmatic acceptance of his environment, or he becomes 
restless and fired with a surplus energy of ambition, 
or he falls to dreaming dreams ; whatever angle he takes, 
he changes, imperceptibly perhaps, but inevitably. 

Then the monotony is broken and sometimes with vio- 
lence. Incident rushes in upon the heels of incident, 
and life becomes as tumultuous as the many moods of 
nature when it has a wide, open land for a play- 
ground. 

That is why, perhaps, so much of western life is 
painted with broad strokes and raw colors. You are 
given the crowded action, the unleashing of emotions 
and temperaments that have smoldered long under the 



TWELVE MONTHS OR SO 79 

blanket of solitary living. You are shown an effect 
without being given the cause of that effect. You pro- 
nounce the West wild, and you never think of the long 
winters that bred in silence and brooding solitude those 
storm-periods which seem so primitively savage ; of the 
days wherein each nature is thrown upon its own re- 
sources, with nothing to feed upon but itself and its 
own personal interests. And so characters change, and 
one wonders why. 

There was Billy Louise, with her hands and her mind 
full of the problems her father had died still trying to 
solve. She did not in the least realize that she was 
attempting anything out of the ordinary when she took 
a half-developed ranch in the middle of a land almost 
as wild as it had been when the Indians wandered over 
it unmolested, a few cattle and horses and a bundle 
of debts to make her head swim, and set herself the 
problem of increasing the number of cattle and elimi- 
nating the debts, and of wresting prosperity out of a 
condition of picturesquely haphazard poverty. She 
went about it with the pathetic confidence of youth and 
ignorance, ^he rode up and down the canyons and over 
the higher, grassier ridges, to watch the cattle on their 
summer range and keep them from straying. She went 
with John Pringle after posts and helped him fence 
certain fertile slopes and hollows for winter grazing. 
She drove the rickety old mower through the waving 
grass along the creek bottons and hummed little, con- 
tented tunes while she watched the grass sway and fall 
evenly when the sickle shuttled through. She put on 
her gymnasium bloomers and drove 'the hay wagon, and 
felt only a pleasurable thrill of excitement when John 



80 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Pringle inadvertently pitched an indignant rattlesnake 
up to, her with a forkful of hay. She killed the snake 
with her pitchfork and pinched off the rattles, proud 
of their size and number. 

When she sold seven fat, three-year-old steers that 
fall, and paid a note twice renewed, managing besides 
to buy the winter supply of " grub " and a sewing- 
machine and a set of silver teaspoons for her mother, 
oh, but she was proud ! 

Ward rode down to the ranch that night, and Billy 
Louise showed him the note with its red stamp, oblong 
and imposing and slightly blurred on the " paid " side. 
Ward was almost as proud as she, if looks and tones 
went for anything, and he helped Billy Louise a good 
deal by telling her just how much she ought to pay 
for the yearlings old Johnson, over on Snake River, 
had for sale. Also he told her how much hay it would 
take to winter them though she knew that already 
and just what percentage of profit she might expect 
from a given number in a given period of time. 

He spoke of his own work and plans, as well. He was 
going into cattle, also, as fast as possible, he said. In 
a few years the sheep would probably come in and 
crowd them out, but in the meantime there was money 
in cattle and the more cattle, the more money. He 
was going to work for wages till the winter set in. He 
did n't know when he would see Billy Louise, he said, 
but he would stop on his way back. 

To them that short visit was something more than 
an incident. It gave Ward new stuff for "his dreams 
and new fuel for the fire of ambition. To Billy Louise 
it also furnished new dream material. She rode the 



TWELVE MONTHS OR SO 81 

hills and saw in fancy whole herds of cattle where now 
wandered scattered animals. She dreamed of the time 
when Ward and Charlie Fox and she would pool their 
interests and run a wagon of their own, and gather their 
stock from wide ranges. She was foolish, in that ; but 
that is what she liked to dream. 

Mentioning Charlie Fox calls to mind the 'fact that 
he was changing more than any of them. Billy Louise 
did not" see him very often, but when she did it was 
with a deepening impression of his unflagging tender- 
ness to Marthy a tenderness 'that manifested itself 
in many little, unassuming thoughtf ulnesses and of 
his good-humor and his energy and several other quali- 
ties which one must admire. 

" Mommie, that nephew goes at everything just as if 
it were a game," she said after one visit. " You know 
what that cabin has always been: dark and dirty and 
not a comfortable chair to sit down in, or a book or 
magazine or anything ? Well, I 'm just going to take 
you over there some day and let you see the difference. 
He 's cut two more windows and built on an addition 
with a porch, if you please. And he has a bookcase 
he made himself, just stuffed with books and maga- 
zines. And he made Marthy a rocking-chair, mommie, 
and she wears a white apron, and has her hair 
combed, and sits and rocks! Honest to goodness, you 
would n't think she was the same woman." 

" Marthy always seemed to me more like a man than 
a woman," said her mother. " She did n't have noth- 
ing domestic in her whole make-up, far as I could see. 
Her cooking " 

" Well, mommie, Marthy cooks real well now. 



82 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Charlie praises up her bread, and she takes lots of pains 
with it. And she just fusses with her flowers and lets 
him run the ranch; and, mommie, she just worships, 
Charlie ! The way she sits and looks at him when he 's 
talking you can see she almost says prayers to him. 
She does let her dishpan stay greasy I don't suppose 
you can change a person completely but everything 
is lots cleaner than it used to be before Charlie came. 
He 's going to buy more cattle, too, he says. Young 
stock, mostly. He says there 's no sense in anybody be- 
ing poor, in such a country as this. He says he in- 
tends to make Marthy rich; Aunt Martha, he calls her. 
I 'm certainly going to take you over to see her, mom- 
mie, the very first nice day when I don't have a million 
other things to do." Billy Louise sighed and pushed 
her hair back impatiently. " I wish I were a man and 
as smart as Charlie Fox," she added, with the plaintive 
note that now sometimes crept into her voice When 
she realized of a sudden how great a load she was 
carrying. 

" A man can get out and do things. And a woman 
why, even Ward seems to think it 's perfectly wonder- 
ful, mommie, that we don't just about starve, with me 
running the ranch! I know he does. Every time I 
do a thing right or pay off a note or anything, he looks 
as if " 

" T would n't be a mite surprised, Billy Louise," said 
her mother, with a flash of amused comprehension, " if 
you kinda misread Ward sometimes. Them eyes of 
his are pretty keen, and they see a whole lot ; but they 
ain't easy to read, for all that. I guess Ward don't 
think it 's anything surprising that you 're getting along 



TWELVE MONTHS OR SO 83 

so well, Billy Louise. I surmise he knows you 're a 
better manager than a lot of men are." 

" I 'm not the manager Charlie Fox is, though." 
Billy Louise was frankly envious. 

" He did n't have any more to do with- than. 
I 've got, and he 's accomplished a lot more. And, 
besides, he started in green at the whole business." 
She rested her chin in her cupped palms and stared 
disconsolately at the high-piled hills behind which the 
sun was setting gloriously. " He 's going to pipe 
water into the house, mommie," she observed, after a 
silence. " I wish " 

" Well, he 's welcome. I don't want no water piped 
in here, Billy Louise, and tastin' of the pipe. I 'd 
rather carry it and have it sweet and fresh. Don't 
you go worrying because you can't do everything Charlie 
Fox does. Likely as not he 's pilin' up the debts in- 
stead of payin' 'em off as you 're doing." 

" I don't know ; I don't believe he is, though. I think 
he 's just managing right and making every dollar count. 
He got calves from Seabeck, up the river, cheaper than 
I did from Johnson, mommie. He rode all over the 
country and looked up range conditions and prices. He 
did n't say so, but he made me feel foolish because I 
just bought the first ones I saw, without waiting to 
look around first. But Ward said it was a good buy, 
and he ought to know ; only, the fact remains that Char- 
lie has done better. I guess it is n't experience that 
counts, altogether. Charlie Fox has got brains ! " 

" Land alive ! I guess he ain't the only one, Billy 
Louise. You 're doing better than your father done, 
and he was n't any Jase Meilke kind of a man, but a 



84 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

good, hard worker always. You don't want to get all 
outa conceit with yourself just because Charlie Fox 
is gitting along all right. I don't know as it 's so won- 
derful. Marthy was always forehanded, and she made 
money there and never spent any to speak of. Though 
I should n't carry the idea she 's stingy, after the way 
she " 

If Billy Louise had not been so absorbed with her 
own discontent, she might have wondered at her 
mother's sudden silence. But she did not even notice 
it. She was comparing two young men and measuring 
them with certain standards of her own, and she was 
not quite satisfied with the result. She had seen Charlie 
Fox spring up with a perfectly natural courtesy and 
hand Marthy a chair when she entered the room where 
he had been discussing books with Billy Louise. She 
had seen him stand beside his own chair until Marthy 
was seated and then had heard him deftly turn the 
conversation into a channel wherein Marthy had also 
an interest. Parlor politeness and something more ; 
something infinitely finer and better than mere obe- 
dience to certain conventional rules. 

She had seen that and more, and she had a vivid pic- 
ture of Ward, sitting absorbed in a book which he never 
afterwards mentioned, and letting her or her mother 
lift heavy pieces of wood upon the fire within arm's 
reach of him ; sitting with his hat tilted back upon his 
head and a cigarette gone cold in his fingers, and per- 
haps not replying at all when he was spoken to. She 
had never considered him uncouth or rude ; he was Ward 
Warren, and these were certain individual traits which 
he possessed and which seemed a part of him. She 



TWELVE MONTHS OR SO 85 

had sensed dimly that some natures are too big and 
too strong for petty rules of deportment, and that Ward 
might sit all day in the house with his hat on his head 
and still be a gentleman of the finer sort. And yet, 
now that Charlie Fox had come and presented an ex- 
ample of th,e world's standard, Billy Louise could not, 
for the life of her, help wishing that Ward was differ- 
ent. And there were other things; things which Billy 
Louise was ashamed to recognize as influencing her 
in any way, and yet which did influence her. For 
instance, Ward lived to himself and for himself, and 
not always wisely or well. He was arrogant in his 
opinions Billy Louise had rather admired what she 
had called his strength, but it had become arrogance 
now and his scorn was swift and keen for blunder- 
ings. And there was Charlie, always thinking and plan- 
ning for Marthy and putting her wishes first; want- 
ing to make sure that he himself had not blundered, 
and with a conservative estimate of himself that was 
refreshingly modest. And 

" Ain't that Ward coming, Billy Louise ? Seems to 
me it looks like him the way he rides." 

Billy Louise started guiltily and looked up toward 
the trail, now piled deep with shadows. It was Ward, 
all right, and his voice, lifted in a good-humored shout, 
brought Billy Louise to her feet and sent her down 
the slope to the stable, where he had stopped as a 
matter of course. 

When he turned and smiled at her through the dusk 
and said, " 'Lo, Bill," in a voice that was like a spoken 
kiss, a certain young woman hated herself for a weak- 
souled traitor and mentally called Charlie Fox a popin- 



86 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

jay, which was merely shifting injustice to another 
resting-place. 

" Are you plumb tickled to death to see me, Wil- 
liam " 

" Oh, no; but I guess I can stand it ! " 

A smile to go with both sentences, and a strong un- 
dercurrent of something unnamed in their tones whc 
wanted the pasteurized milk and distilled water of a 
perfectly polite form of greeting? Not Billy Louise, 
if one might judge from that young woman's face and 
voice and manner. Not Ward, though he was perfectly 
unconscious of having been weighed or measured 
or judged by any standard at all. 

And yet, when Charlie Fox rode down to the Wol- 
verine a week or so later, tied his horse under the shed, 
and came up to the cabin as though he knew of no 
better place in all the world ; when he greeted mommie 
as though she were something precious in his sight, 
and talked with her about the things she was most 
interested in, and actually made her feel as if he were 
immensely interested also, Billy Louise simply could 
not help admiring him and liking him for his frank 
good-nature and his kindness. She had never before 
met a man just like Charlie Fox, though she had known 
many who were what Ward once called " parlor-broke." 
She felt when she was with him that he had a strength 
to match Ward's strength ; only, this strength was tamed 
and trained and smoothed so that it did not obtrude 
upon one's notice. It was not every young man who 
would come out into the wilderness and roughen his 
hands on an irrigating shovel and live a cramped, lonely 
life, for the sake of a harsh, illiterate old woman like 



TWELVE MONTHS OR SO 87 

Marthy Meilke. She did not believe Ward would do 
that. He would have to feel some tie stronger than 
the one between Marthy and her nephew before he would 
change his life and his own plans for anyone. 

It was not mntil Charlie was leaving that he gave 
Billy Louise a hint that his errand was not yet ac- 
complished. She walked down with him to where his 
horse was tred and so gave him a chance to speak what 
was in his mind. 

" You know, I hate to mention little worries before 
your mother," he said. " Those pathetic eyes of hers 
make me ashamed to bother her with a thing. But I 
am worried, Miss Louise. I came over to ask you 
if you 've seeia anything of four calves of ours. I 
know you ride a good deal, through the hills. They 
disappeared a week ago, and I can't find any trace 
of them. I 've been looking all through the hills, but 
I can't locate them." 

Billy Louise had not seen them, either, and she 
begged for particulars. " I don't see how they could 
get away from your Cove," she said, " unless your bars 
were down." 

" The bars were all right. It was last Friday, I 
think. I 'm not sure. They were in the little meadow 
above the house, you see. I was away that night, and 
Aunt Martha is a little hard of hearing. She would n't 
hear anything unless there were considerable noise. I 
came home the next forenoon I was over to Seabeck's 
and the bars were in place then. Aunt Martha had not 
been up the gorge, nor had anyone come to the ranch 
while I was gone. So you see, Miss Louise, here 's a 
very pretty mystery ! " 



88 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

He laughed, but Billy Louise saw by his eyes that 
he did not laugh very deeply, and that he was really 
worried. " I must have made a mistake and bought 
mountain sheep instead of calves," he said and laughed 
again. " They could n't have gone through those bars 
or over them; and I did have a spark of intelligence 
and looked along the river for tracks, you know. They 
had not been near the river, which has soft banks along 
there. They watered from the little creek that comes 
down the gorge. Miss Louise, do you have flying cat- 
tle in Idaho ? " 

" You think they were driven off, don't you ? " Billy 
Louise asked a question with the words, and made a 
statement of it with her tone, which was a trick of 
hers. 

Charlie Fox shook his head, but his eyes did not com- 
plete the denial. " Miss Louise, I 'd wor every other 
theory to death before I 'd admit that possibility ! I 
don't know all of my neighbors 'so very well, but I 
should hesitate a long, long time " 

" It need n't have been a neighbor. There are lots 
of strange men passing through the country. Did you 
look for tracks ? " 

"I did not. I did n't want to admit that possi- 
bility. I decline to admit it now." The chin of Charlie 
Fox squared perceptibly, so that Billie Louise caught 
a faint resemblance to Marthy in his face. u I saw a 
man accused of a theft once," he said. ' The evi- 
dence was or seemed absolutely unassailable. And 
afterward he was exonerated completely; it was just 
a horrible mistake. But he left school under a cloud. 
His life was ruined by the blunder. I 'd have to know 



TWELVE MONTHS OR SO 89 

absolutely before I 'd accuse anyone of stealing those 
calves, Miss Louise. I 'd have to see them in a man's 
corral, with his brand on them I believe that 's the 
way it 's done, out here and even then " 

" Where have you looked ? " There were reasons why 
this particular subject was painful to Billy Louise. 
" And are you sure they did n't get out of that pas- 
ture and wander on down the Cove, among all those 
willows ? It 's a perfect jungle, away down. Are you 
sure they aren't with the rest of the cattle? I don't 
see how they could leave the Cove, unless they were 
driven out." She caught a twinkle of amusement in 
his eyes and stopped short. Of course, a mere girl 
should not take it for granted that a man had failed to 
do all that might be done. And Billy Louise had a 
swift conviction that she would never think of talking 
like this to Ward. She flushed a little ; and still, Charlie 
Fox was a tenderfoot. She was justified in asking those 
questions, and in her heart she knew it. 

" Yes, I thought of that strange as it may seem." 
Charlie's voice was unoffended. On the contrary, he 
seemed glad that she took so keen an interest in his 
affairs. " It has been a week, you know, since they 
flew the coop. I did hunt every foot of that Cove, 
twice over. I drove every hoof of stock up and cor- 
raled them, and made sure these four were not in the 
herd. Then I hunted through every inch of that wil- 
low jungle and all along the bluff and the river; Miss 
Louise, I put in three days at it, from sunrise till 
it was too dark to see. Then I began riding outside. 
There isn't a trace of them anywhere. I had just 
bought them from Seabeck, you know. I drove them 



90 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

home, and because they were tired, and so was I, I just 
left them in that upper meadow as I came down the 
gorge. I had n't branded them yet. I I know I 've 
made an awful botch of the thing, Miss Louise," lie 
confessed, turning toward her with an honest distress 
and a self-flaying humility in his eyes that wiped from 
Billy Louise's mind any incipient tendency toward con- 
tempt. " But you see I 'm green at this ranch game. 
And I never dreamed those calves were n't perfectly 
safe in there. The fence was new and strong; I built 
it new this fall, you know. And the bars are abso- 
lutely bars to any stock larger than a rabbit. Of 
course," he added, with a deprecating note, " four 
calves are only four calves. But it 's the sense of 
failure that gets me hardest, Miss Louise. Aunt Martha 
trusted me to take care of things. Her confidence in 
me fairly takes my nerve. And losing four fine, big 
heifer calves at one whack is no way to get rich; is 
it, Miss Louise ? " He laughed, and again the laugh 
did not go deep, or reach his eyes. 

" I hate to bother you with this, and I don't want 
you to think I have come whining for sympathy," he 
said, after a minute of moody silence. " But seeing 
they were not branded yet with our brand I 
thought perhaps you had run across them and paid no 
attention, thinking they belonged to Seabeck." 

Billy Louise smiled a little to herself. If he had 
not been quite so " green at the ranch game," he would 
have mentioned brands at first, as the most important 
point, instead of tacking on the information casually 
after ten minutes of other less vital details. 

" Were they vented ? " she asked, suppressing the 



TWELVE MONTHS OR SO 91 

smile so that it was merely a twitch of the lips which 
might mean anything. 

"I yes, I think they were. That 's what you call 
it when the former owner puts his brand in a different 
place to show that his ownership has ceased, isjn't it? 
Seabeck puts his brand upside down " 

" I know Seabeck's vent," Billy Louise cut in. There 
was no need of letting such a fine fellow display more 
ignorance on the subject. " And I should have no- 
ticed it if I had seen four calves vented fresh and not 
rebranded. Why in the world did n't you stick your 
brand on at the same time ? " Billy Louise was losing 
patience with his greenness. 

" I did n't have my branding iron with me," Charlie 
answered humbly. " I have done that before, when I 
bought those other cows and calves. I " 

" You 'd better pack your iron, next time," she re- 
torted. " If you can't get a little bunch of calves 
ten miles without losing them " 

" But you must understand, I did ! I took them 
home and turned them into the Cove. I know I 'm 
an awful chump at this. There are things that I can 
do," he declared whimsically, " or I should want to 
kick myself to death. I can ladle out money the year 
round through a bank wicket and not be shy a cent 
at the end of the year. And I can strike out man after 
man when I 'm in good form ; why, I 've pitched 
whole games and never walked a man! And I can 
but what 's the use ? I can't drive the cows up from 
pasture, it seems, without losing all the milk. And 
I can make a little, gray-eyed girl out here in the 
sagebrush look upon me with pitying contempt for my 



92 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

asinine ignorance. Hang it, why does a fellow have 
to learn fresh lessons for everything he undertakes ? 
Why can't there be a universal course that fits one for 
every trade ? " 

" There is," said Billy Louise dryly. " You take 
that in the School of Experience, don't you ? " 

He laughed ruefully. " Horatio ! It certainly does 
cost something, though. I 've certainly paid enough 

" In worry, maybe. The calves may not be abso- 
lutely lost, you know. Why, I lost a big steer last 
spring and never found him till I was going to sell 
a few head. Then he turned up, the biggest and fat- 
test one in the bunch. You can't tell; they get them- 
selves in queer places sometimes. I '11 come over to- 
morrow, if I can, and take a look at that pasture and 
all around. And I '11 keep a good looko.ut for the 
calves." 

Many men would have objected to the unconscious 
patronage of her tone. That Charlie Fox did not, but 
accepted the spirit of helpfulness in her words, lifted 
him out of the small-natured class. 

" It 's awfully good of you," he said. " You know 
a lot more about the bovine nature than I do, for all 
I put in every spare minute studying the subject. I 'm 
taking four different stock journals now, Miss Louise. 
I '11 bet I know a lot more about the different strains 
of various breeds than you do, Miss Cattle-queen. But 
I 'm beginning to see that we only know what we learn 
by experience. I 've a new book on the subject of 
heredity of the cattle. I 'm going home and see if Sea- 
beck has n't stumbled upon a strain that can be traced 
back to your native mountain sheep." 



TWELVE MONTHS OR SO 93 

Billy Louise laughed and said good-by, and stood 
leaning over the gate watching him as he zigzagged 
up the hill, stopping his horse often to breathe. The 
wagon road took a round-about course, longer and less 
steep. At the top, just before he rounded a huge pim- 
ple on the face of the bluff, he stopped and looked 
down, saw her standing there, and waved his hat. His 
horse stood sidewise upon the trail for easier foot- 
ing, and the man's head and shoulders were silhouetted 
sharply against the deep, clear blue of the sky. Billy 
Louise felt a little, unnamed thrill as she stared up 
at him. Her lips curved into tenderness. Clean, frank, 
easy-natured he was, as she had come to know him. It 
was like coming into a sunny spot to be with him. And 
then she sighed, with that vague feeling of dissatis- 
faction with herself. She felt crude and awkward and 
dull of wit. Her mother, Marthy, Ward all the per- 
sons she knew were crude and awkward and ignorant 
beside Charlie Fox. And she had had the temerity, 
the insufferable effrontery, to criticize him and patron- 
ize him over those four calves! 

" He can strike out three men in succession," she 
murmured. " And he pitched whole games and never 
walked a man." She gave him a final wave of the 
hand, as he turned to climb on out of sight. " And I 
don't even know what he was talking about though I 
think it was baseball. And I was awfully snippy about 
those calves he lost." 

She began to wonder, then, about those calves. 
Vented and not rebranded, they would be easy game for 
any man who first got his own brand on them. She 
meant to get a description of them when she saw Char- 



94 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

lie again it was like his innocence to forget the most 
essential details ! and she meant to keep her eyes 
open. If Charlie were right about the calves not be- 
ing anywhere in the Cove, then they had been driven 
out of it, stolen. Billy Louise turned dejectedly away 
from the fence and went down to a shady nook by 
the creek, where she had always liked to do her wor- 
rying and hard thinking. 

She stooped and tried to catch a baby trout in her 
cupped palms, just as she used to try when she was 
a child. If those four calves were stolen, then there 
was a " rustler " in the country. And if there were, 
then no one's stock was safe. The deduction was ter- 
ribly simple and as exact as the smallest sum in addi- 
tion. And Billy Louise could not afford to pay toll to 
a rustler out of her forty-seven head of cattle. 

The next day she rode early to the Cove and learned 
some things from Marthy which she had not gleaned 
from Charlie. She learned that two of the calves were 
a deep red, except for a wide, white strip on the nose 
of one and white hind feet on the other; that another 
was spotted on the hindquarters, and that the fourth 
was white, with large, red blotches. She had known 
cattle all her life. She would know these, if she saw 
them anywhere. 

She also discovered for herself that they could not 
have broken out of that pasture, and that the river 
bank was impassable, because of high, thick bushes and 
miry mud in the open spaces. She had a fight with 
Blue over these latter places and demonstrated beyond 
doubt that they were miry, by getting him in to the 
knees in spite of his violent objections. They left deep 



TWELVE MONTHS OR SO 95 

tracks behind them when they got out. The calves had 
not gone investigating the bank, for there was not a 
trace anywhere. And the bluff was absolutely unscal- 
able. Billy Louise herself would have felt doubtful of 
climbing out that way. The gray rim-rock stood 
straight and high at the top, with never a crevice, so 
far as she could see. And the gorge was barred, so 
that it was impossible to go that way without lifting 
heavy poles out of deep sockets and sliding them to one 
side. 

" I 've got an idea about a gate here," Charlie con- 
fided suddenly. " There won't be any more mysteries 
like this. I 'm going to fix a swinging gate in place 
of these bars, Miss Louise. I shall have it swing up- 
hill, like this ; and I '11 have a weight arranged so that 
it will always close itself, if one is careless enough to 
ride on and leave it open. I have it all worked out 
in my alleged brain. I shall do it right away, too. 
Aunt Marthy is rather nervous about this gorge, now. 
Every evening she walks up here herself to make sure 
the bars are closed." 

" You may as well make up your mind to it," said 
Billy Louise irrelevantly, in a tone of absolute cer- 
tainty. " Those calves were driven out of the gorge. 
That means stolen. You need n't accuse anyone in par- 
ticular; I don't suppose you could. But they were 
stolen." 

Charlie frowned and glanced up speculatively at the 
bluff's rim. 

" Oh, your mountain-sheep theory is no good," Billy 
Louise giggled. " I doubt if a lizard, even, would try 
to leave the Cove over the bluff." Which certainly was 



96 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

a sweeping statement, when you consider a lizard's 
habits. " A mountain sheep could n't, anyway." 

" They 're hummers to climb " 

" But calves are not, Mr. Fox ! Not like that. You 
know yourself they were stolen ; why not admit it ? " 

" Would that do any good bring them back ? " he 
countered, looking up at her. 

" N-o, but I do hate to see a person deliberately shut 
his eyes in front of a fact. We may as well admit to 
ourselves that there is a rustler in the country. Then 
we can look out for him." 

Charlie's eyes had the troubled look. " I hate to 
think that. Aunt Martha insists that is what we are 
up against, but " 

" Well, she knows more about it than you do, believe 
me. If you '11 let down the bars, Mr. Fox, I '11 hit 
the trail. And if I find out anything, I '11 let you 
know at once." 

When she rode over the bleak upland she caught her- 
self wishing that she might talk the thing over with 
Ward. He would know just what ought to be done. 
But winter was coming, and she would drive her stock 
down into the fields she had ready. They would be 
safe there, surely. Still, she wished Ward would come. 
She wanted to talk it over with a man who understood 
and who knew more about such things than she did. 



CHAPTER VII 

WARD HUNTS WOLVES 

THE fate of the four heifer calves became per- 
manently wrapped in the blank fog of mystery. 
Billy Louise watched for them when she rode out in 
the hills, and spent a good deal of time heretofore given 
over to dreaming in trying to solve the riddle of their 
disappearance. Charlie Fox insisted upon keeping to 
the theory that they had merely strayed. Marthy grum- 
bled sometimes over the loss, and Ward well, AVard 
did not put in an appearance again that fall or winter 
and so did not hear of the incident. 

November brought a long, tiresome storm of snow 
and sleet and chill winds, which even the beasts would 
not face, except when they were forced. After that 
there were days of chilly sunlight, nights of black frost, 
and more wind and rain and snow. Each little ranch 
oasis withdrew into itself and settled down to pass the 
winter in physical comfort and mental isolation. Even 
Billy Louise seldom rode abroad unless she was com- 
pelled to, which was not often. The stage which passed 
through the Wolverine basin twice a week left scanty 
mail in the starch-box which Billy Louise had herself 
nailed to a post nearest the trail. Now and then a 
chance traveler pulled thankfully out of the trail, 
stopped for a warm dinner or a bed, and afterwards 
went his way. But from October until the hills were 



98 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

green, there was never a sight of Ward, and Billy Louise 
changed her mood and her opinion of him three or four 
times a week. 

Ward, as a matter of fact, had a very good reason 
for his absence. He was working for a rancher over 
on the other side of the mountains, and when he got 
leave of absence, it was merely that he might ride to 
his claim and sleep there a night in compliance with 
the law, and see that nothing was disturbed. He was 
earning forty dollars a month, which he could not af- 
ford to jeopardize by any prolonged absence; and he 
was to take part of his pay in cows. Also, he had made 
arrangements to keep his few head of stock with the 
rancher's for a nominal sum, which barely saved Ward 
from the humiliation of feeling that the man was giv- 
ing him something for nothing. Junkins, the rancher, 
was a good fellow, and he had a fair sense of values. 
He knew that he could pay Ward these wages and let 
him winter his stock there I believe Ward bad seven 
or eight head at that time and still make a fair profit 
on his labor. For Ward stuck to his work, and he- 
worked fast, with the drive of his nervous energy and 
the impatience he always felt toward any obstacle. Jun- 
kins considered privately that Ward was giving him 
the work of two men, while he had the appetite of one. 
-So that it was to his interest to induce Ward to stay 
until ?pring opened and gave him plenty to do on his 
own claim ; and such was Ward's anxiety to acquire 
some property and a certain financial security, that he 
put behind him the temptation to ride down to the 
Wolverine until he was once more his own master. He 
had sold his time to Junkins. He would not pilfer the 



WARD HUNTS WOLVES 99 

hours it would take to ride twenty miles and back again, 
even to see Billy Louise; which proves that he was no 
moral weakling, whatever else he might be. 

Then, in April, he left Junkins and drove home a 
nice little bunch of ten cows and a two-year-old and two 
yearlings. One of the cows had a week-old calf, and 
there would be more before long. Ward sang the whole 
of Cliisholm Trail at the top of his voice^^s he drifted 
the cattle slowly up the long hill to the top of the 
divide, from where he could look down over lower hills 
into his own little creek-bottom. 

" With my knees in the saddle and my seat in the sky, 
I '11 quit punching cows in the sweet by-and-by," 

he finished exuberantly and promised himself that he 
would ride down to the Wolverine the very next day 
" and see how the folks came through the winter." He 
wanted to tell William Louisa that he was some cow- 
man himself, these days. He thought he had made a 
pretty good showing in the last twelve months ; for when 
he first met her, at the Cedar Creek ford, he had n't 
owned a hoof except the four which belonged to Rattler, 
his horse. He thought that maybe, if the play came 
right and he did n't lose his nerve, he might tell Wil- 
liam Louisa something else ! It seemed to him that he 
had earned the right now. 

He rode three miles oblivious to his surroundings, 
while he went carefully over his acquaintance no, his 
friendship with Billy Louise and tried to guess what 
she would say when he told her what he had wanted to 
tell her for a year; what he had been hungry to tell 
her. Sometimes he smiled a little, and sometimes he 



100 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

looked gloomy. He ended by hurrying the cattle down 
the canyon so that he might ride on to the Wolverine 
that night. It would be tough on Rattler, but then, 
what 's a range cayuse made for, anyway ? Rattler had 
had a snap, all winter ; he could stand a hard deal once, 
for a change. It would do the old skate good to lift 
himself over fifty miles once more. 

Whether it did Rattler any good or not, it put new 
heart into Ward to ride down the bluff and see the 
wink of the cabin window once more. He smiled sud- 
denly to himself, threw back his shoulders, and lifted 
up his voice in the doggerel that had come to be a sort 
of bond between the two. 

" I 'm on my best horse and a-comin' on the run, 
Best blamed cowboy that ever pulled a gun," 

he shouted gleefully. A yellow square opened in the 
cabin's side, and a figure stood outlined against the 
shining background. Ward laughed happily. 

" Coma ti yi youpy, youpy-a, youpy-a," he sang up- 
roariously. 

Billy Louise turned her head toward the interior 
of the cabin and then left the light and merged into the 
darkness without. Ward risked a broken neck and 
went down the last bit of slope as if he were trying 
to head a steer. By the time he galloped up to the gate, 
Billy Louise was leaning over it. He could see her 
form dimly there. 

" 'Lo, Bill," he said softly and slid out of the saddle 
and went up to her. " How you was, already ? " Again 
his voice was like a kiss. 

" 'Lo, Ward!" (in a tone that returned the kiss). 



WARD HUNTS WOLVES 101 

" Don't know whether the stopping 's good to-night or 
not. We 've quit taking in tramps. Where the dick- 
ens have you been for the last ten years ? " And that, 
on top of a firm conviction in Billy's Louise's mind 
that she did not care whether Ward ever crossed her 
trail again, and that when he did, he would have to do 
a lot of explaining before she would thaw to anything 
approaching friendliness. Oh, well, we all change our 
minds sometimes. 

" I felt like it was twenty," Ward affirmed. " Ho 
I get any supper, William? I like to have ridden my 
horse to a standstill getting here to-night; know that? 
I hope you appreciate the fact." 

" It 's a wonder you would n't have started a lit- 
tle sooner, then," Billy Louise retorted. " Along about 
Christmas, for instance." 

" Was n't my fault I did n't, William. Think I Ve 
got nothing to do but chase around the country calling 
on young ladies ? I 've been a wage slave, Bill-Loo. 
Come on while I put up my horse. Poor devil, I drove 
cattle from Junkins' place with him, and they were n't 
what you could call trail-broke, either. And then I 
came on down here. I 've been in the . saddle since 
daylight, young lady ; and Rattler 's been under it." 

" Well, I 'm very sure that it is not my fault," Billy 
Louise disclaimed, as she walked beside him to the 
stable. 

" I 'm not so sure of that ! I might produce some 
pretty strong evidence that the last twenty miles is 
your fault. Say, you did n't know I 've gone into the 
cow business myself, did you, William ? I Ve been 
working like one son-of-a-gun all fall and winter, and 



102 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

I 'm in the cattle-king class to the extent of twelve 
head. I knew you were crazy to hear the glad tidings, 
so I tried to kill off a horse to get here and tell you. 
You and me '11 be running a wagon and full crew in 
another year, don't you reckon? And send reps over 
into Wyoming and around, to look after our interests ! " 
He laughed at himself with a perfect understanding 
of his own insignificance as a cattle-owner, and Billy 
Louise laughed with him, though not at him, for it 
seemed to her that Ward had done well, considering 
his small opportunities. 

To be sure, in these days when civilization travels 
by million-dollar milestones, and the hero of a ten- 
dollar story scorns any enterprise which requires less 
than five figures to name its profits, Ward and Billy 
Louise and Charlie Fox and all their neighbors 
do not amount to much. But it is a fact that real 
men and women in the real world beyond the horizon 
work hard and fight real battles for a very small suc- 
cess compared with Big Interests and the modern story- 
man. And I 'm telling you of some real people in 
a real world out in the sagebrush country, where not 
even a story hero may consistently become a million- 
aire in ten chapters. There is no millionaire material 
in the sagebrush country, you know, unless it is planted 
there by the Big Interests; and the Big Interests do 
not plant in barren soil. So if twelve head of cattle 
look too trifling to mention, I can't help it. Ward 
worked mighty hard for those few animals, and saved 
and schemed, and denied himself much pleasure. There- 
fore, he did as well as any man under the circumstances 
could do and be honest. 



WARD HUNTS WOLVES 103 

Pie did not do so very well when it came to telling 
Billy Louise something. Twice during his visit he 
had to admit to himself that the play came right 
to tell her. And both times Ward shied like a horse 
in the moonlight. For all that he sang about half the 
way home, the next day, and for the rest of the way 
he built castles; which proves that his visit ha'd not 
been disappointing. 

He rode out into the pasture where his cattle were 
grazing and sat looking at them while he smoked a 
cigarette. And while he smoked, that small herd grew 
and multiplied before the eyes of his imagination, until 
he needed a full crew of riders to take care of them. 
He shipped a trainload of beef to Chicago before he 
threw away the cigarette stub, and he laughed to him- 
self when he rode back to the log cabin in the grove 
of quaking aspens. 

" I 'm getting my money's worth out of that bunch, 
just in the fun of planning ahead/' he realized, while 
he whittled shavings from the edge of a cracker-box 
to start his supper fire. " A few cows and calves make 
the best day-dream material I 've struck yet ; wish I 
had more of the same. I 'd make old Dame Fortune 
put a different brand on me, pronto. She could spell 
it with an F, but it would n't be football. If the cards 
fall right," he mused, when the fire was hot and crack- 
ling, and he was slicing bacon with his pocket-knife, 
" I '11 get the best of her yet. And " His coffee- 
pail boiled over and interrupted him. He burned his 
fingers before he slid the pail to a cooler spot, and 
after that he thought of the joys of having a certain 



104 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

gray-eyed girl for his housekeeper, and for a time he 
forgot about his newly acquired herd. 

And then his day-dreams received a severer jolt, and 
one more lasting. He began to realize something that 
he had always known: that there is something more to 
the cattle business than branding the calves and sell- 
ing the beef. 

When the first calf went to dull the hunger of the 
wolves that howled o'nights among the rocks and stunted 
pines on Bannock Butte, Ward swore a good deal and 
resolved to ride with his rifle tied on the saddle here- 
after. Also, he went back immediately, got a little 
fat, blue bottle of strychnine, and returned and " salted " 
the small remnant of the carcass. It was no part of his 
dreams to have the profit chewed off his little herd 
by wolves. 

When the second calf was pulled down in spite of 
the mother's defense, within half a mile of his cabin, 
Ward postponed a trip he had meant to make to the 
Wolverine and went out on the trail of the wolves. In 
the loose soil of the lower ridge he tracked them easily 
and rode at a shuffling trot along the cow-trail they 
had followed, his eyes keen for some further sign of 
them. He guessed that there would be at least one 
den farther up in the gulch that opened out ahead, and 
if he could find it and get the pups well, the bounty 
on one litter would even his loss, even if he were not 
lucky enough to get one of the old ones. He had a 
shovel tied to the saddle under his left leg, to use in 
case he found a den. 

So, planning a crusade against these enemies to his 
enterprise, he picked his way slowly up the side of 



WARD HUNTS WOLVES 105 

the deep gully that had a little stream wandering 
through rocks at the bottom. His eyes, that Billy 
Louise had found so quick and keen, noted every little 
jutting shelf of rock, every badger hole, every bush. 
It looked like a good place for dens of wolf or coyote. 
And with the sun shining down warm on his shoul- 
ders, and the meadow larks singing from swaying, 
weeds, and rabbits scuttling away through the rocks 
now and then, Ward began to forget the ill-luck that 
had brought him out and to enjoy the hunt for its own 
sake. 

Farther along there were so many places that would 
bear investigation that he left Rattler on a level spot, 
and with his rifle and six-shooter, went forward on 
foot, climbing over ledges of rock, forcing his way 
through green-budded, wild-rose bushes or sliding down 
loose, gravelly slopes. 

One place a tiny cave under a huge bowlder 
looked promising. There were wolf tracks going in 
and out, plenty of them. But there were no bones or 
offal anywhere around, and Ward decided that it was 
not a family residence, but that the wolves had per- 
haps invaded the nest of some other animal. He went 
on hopefully. That side of the gulch was cobwebbed 
with tracks. 

Then, quite accidentally, he glanced across to the 
far side, his eyes attracted to something which had 
moved. He could see nothing at first, though from the 
corner of his eye he had ^certainly caught a flicker of 
movement over there. Yellow sand, gray rocks and 
bushes, and above a curlew circling, with long beak 
outstretched before, and long, red legs stretched out 



106 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

behind. He almost believed he had but caught the 
swift passing of a cloud shadow over there and was on 
the point of climbing farther up his own slope, to where 
a yawning hole in the hill showed signs of being pawed 
and trampled. Then an outline slowly defined itself 
among a jumble of rocks ; head, sloping back, two points 
for ears. It might be a rock, but it began to look more 
and more like a wolf sitting up on its haunches watch- 
ing him fixedly. 

Even while Ward lifted his rifle and got the ivory 
bead snugly fitted into the notch of the rear sight with 
his eye, he would not have bet two-bits that he was 
aiming at an animal. He pulled the trigger with a 
steady crooking of his forefinger and the whole gulch 
clamored with the noise. The object over there leaped 
high, came down heavily, and rolled ten feet down the 
hill to another level, where it bounded three or four 
times convulsively, slid a few feet farther, and lay 
still behind a bush. 

" Got you that time, you old Turk, if you did nearly 
fool me playing you were part of the scenery." Ward 
slid recklessly down to the bottom, sought a narrow 
place, jumped the creek, and climbed exultantly to 
where the wolf lay twisted on its back, its eyes half 
open and glazed, its jaws parted in a sardonic grin. 
Ward grinned also as he looked at it. He gave the 
carcass a poke with his boot-toe and glanced up the 
hill toward the rocks. 

" Maybe you were playing lookout for the bunch," 
he said, " and then again, maybe jou ain't hooked up 
with a family ; though from the looks, you ain't weaned 
your pups yet till just now." Leaving the wolf where 



WARD HUNTS WOLVES 107 

she lay, he climbed to the rocks where he had first 
seen her. They lay high piled, but he could see day- 
light through every open space and so knew there was 
no den. The base rested solidly on the yellow earth. 

Ward stood and looked at the slope below. To the 
right and half-way down was a ten-foot ledge, and be- 
low that outcropped a steep bank of earth. He could 
not see what lay immediately below, but while he was 
still staring, a pointed, gray nose topped by pert, gray 
ears poked cautiously over the bank, hovered there 
sniffing, and dropped back out of sight. 

" You little son-of-a-gun ! " he exclaimed and dug in 
his heels on the sharp descent. " I Ve got you right 
where I want you, now." 

The den was tunneled into the earth just over an- 
other ledge, which underlay the bank there, and gave 
a sheer drop of ten or fifteen feet to the slope below, 
where a thick fringe of blossoming cherry bushes grew 
close and hid the ledge so completely that the den had 
been perfectly concealed from across the gulch. It 
was a case where the shovel was needed. Ward 
" flagged " the den by throwing his coat down before 
the opening and went back to where Rattler waited. 
He was jubilant over his good luck. With an average 
litter of pups, and the old wolf besides, the bounty 
would make those two calves the most profitable ani- 
mals in the bunch, reckoned on the basis of money in- 
vested in them. 

With the shovel he enlarged the tunnel, and between 
strokes he heard the whimpering of the pups. The 
sound sobered his face to a pitying determination. Poor 
little devils, it was not their fault that they were born 



108 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

to be a menace rather than a help to mankind. He was 
sorry for their terror, while he dug back to where they 
huddled against the farthest wall of their nest. He 
worked fast that he might the sooner end their discom- 
fort, and his forehead was puckered into a frown at 
the harsh law of life that it must preserve its exist- 
ence at the expense of some other life. Yet he dug 
back and back, burrowing into the bank toward the 
whimpering. It was farther than he had thought, but 
the soil was a loose sand and gravel, and he made good 
headway. 

Then, laying down his shovel, he reached into a hys- 
terical squirm of soft hair and sharp little teeth that 
snapped at his gloved hand. One by one he hauled 
them out, whining, biting, struggling like the little sav- 
ages they were. One by one he sent them into oblivion 
with a sharp tap of the shovel. There were eight, just 
big enough to make little, investigative trips outside 
the den when all was quiet. Ward was glad he had 
found them and wiped them out of existence, but it 
had not been pleasant work. 

He wiped the perspiration off his face with his hand- 
kerchief, pushed his hat to the back of his head, and 
sat down on the ledge beside the pile of dirt he had 
thrown out. He felt the need of a smoke, after all 
that exertion. 

It was while he was smoking and resting that he 
first became conscious of the pile of dirt as something 
more than the obstacle between himself and the wolf- 
pups. He blew a little cloud of smoke from his mouth, 
leaned and lifted a handful of sand, picked something 
out of it, and looked at it intently. He said " Humph ! " 



WARD HUNTS WOLVES 109 

skeptically. Then he turned his head and stared at 
the ledge above and to the right of him, twisted half 
around and scanned the steep slope immediately above 
the earth bank, and then looked at the gulch beneath 
him. He took his cigarette from his lips, said, " Well, 
I '11 be darned ! " and put it back again. With his fore- 
finger he turned over a small, rusty lump the size of 
a pea, wiped it upon his sleeve, and bent over it eagerly, 
holding it so that the light struck it revealingly. His 
face glowed. Save the want of tenderness in his eyes, 
he looked as though Billy Louise stood before him ; the 
same guarded gladness, the same intent eagerness. 

Ward sprawled over that pile of gravel and sand 
and searched with his fingers, as young girls search 
a thick bank of clover for the magic four leaves. He 
found one other small lump that he kept, but beyond 
that his search was barren of result. Still, that glow 
remained in his face. Finally he roused himself as 
though he realized that he was behaving foolishly. He 
made himself another cigarette and smoked it fast, 
keeping pace with his shuttling thoughts. And by the 
time the paper tube was burned down to an inch-long 
stub, he had won back his manner of imperturbable 
calm; only his eyes betrayed a hidden excitement. 

" Looks like there 's money in wolves," he said aloud 
and laughed a little. " Old Lady Fortune, you want 
to watch out, or I 'm liable to get the best of you yet ! 
Looks like I Ve got a hand to draw to, now. Youp- 
ee-ee I " His forced imperturbability exploded in the 
yell, and after that he moved briskly. 

" I've got to play safe on this," he warned himself, 
while he scalped the last of the pups. " No use getting 



110 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

rattled. If she 's good as she looks, she 's fine. She '11 
help boost my little bunch of cattle, and that 's all I 
want. I ain't going to go hog-wild over it, like so 
many do." 

He went over and skinned the mother wolf, and with 
the pelts in a strong-smelling bundle, returned to the 
sand pile and filled his neckerchief as full as he could 
tie it. Then he went down into the gulch, jumped the 
creek with his load and got a foot wet where his 
boot leaked along the sole and climbed hurriedly up 
to where Rattler waited and dozed in the sunshine, 
with the reins dropped to the ground. 

Rattler objected to those fresh wolf-skins, and Ward 
lifted a disciplinary boot-toe to his ribs. His mood 
did not accept patiently any unnecessary delay in get- 
ting home, and he succeeded in making Rattler aware 
of his mood. Rattler laid back his ears and took the 
trail in long, rabbit-jumps for spite, risking his own 
and his master's bones unchecked and unchided. The 
pace pleased Ward, and to the risk he gave no thought. 
He was reconstructing his air-castles on broader lines 
and smiling now and then to himself. 



CHAPTER VIII 

HELP FOR THE COW BUSINESS 

HE had no goldpan of his own, since this was not 
a mining country, and his ambition had run in 
a different channel. He, therefore, took the tin wash- 
basin down to the cre^k and dumped the sand into it. 
Then, squatting on his boot-heels at the edge of the 
stream, he filled the basin with water and rocked it 
gently with a rotary motion that proved him no novice 
at the work. His eyes were sharper and more intent 
in their gaze than Billy Louise had ever seen them, 
and, though his movements were unhurried, they were 
full of eagerness held in leash. 

Several times he refilled the basin, and the amount 
of sand grew less and less, until there remained only 
a few spoonfuls of coarse gravel and a sediment that 
clung to the bottom of the basin and moved sluggishly 
around and around. He picked out the tiny pebbles 
one by one and threw them in the creek. He peered 
sharply at a small bit and held it in his fingers, while 
he bent his face close to the pan, his eyes two gimlets 
boring into the contents. 

He got up stiffly, backed, and sat down upon the low 
bank with his feet far apart and his shoulders bent, 
while he stared at the little bit of mineral in his 
fingers. 

" Coarse gold, and not such a hell of a lot," he pro- 



112 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

nounced to himself with careful impartiality. " But 
it 's pay dirt, and if there 's enough of it, it '11 help 
a lot at this end of the cow business." He sat there 
a long time, thinking and planning and holding him- 
self sternly to cold reality, rejecting every possibility 
that had the slightest symptom of being an air-castle. 
He did not intend to let this thing turn his head or be- 
tray him into any foolishness whatsoever. He was 
going to look at the thing cold-bloodedly and put his 
imagination in cold storage for the present. 

His first impulse to ride straight to ihe Wolverine 
and show Billy Louise these three tiny nuggets he 
rejected as a bit of foolishness. He was perfectly will- 
ing to trust Billy Louise with any secret he possessed, 
but he knew that he would be feeding her imagination 
with dangerous fuel. She would begin dreaming and 
building castles and prospecting for herself, very likely ; 
and that trail led oftenest to black disappointment. If 
he made good, he would tell her when he told her 
something else. And if the whole thing were just a 
fluke, a stray deposit of a little gold that did not amount 
to anything, then it would be best for her to know 
nothing about it. Ward felt in himself, at that mo- 
ment, the keen foretaste of bitter disappointment which 
would follow such a certainty. He did not want Billy 
Louise exposed to that pain. 

He would tell her about the wolves, of course. It 
was pretty hard not to tell her everything that con- 
cerned himself, but the streak of native reticence in 
his nature had been strengthened by the vicissitudes 
of the life he had lived. While Billy Louise had found 
the sole weak point which made that reticence scarcely 



HELP FOR THE COW BUSINESS 113 

a barrier to full confidence, still he knew that he would 
keep this from her if he made up his mind to it. 

He would not tell anybody. He raised his head 
and looked at the hills where his cattle would feed, 
and pictured it cluttered with gold-hunters, greedy, un- 
desirable interlopers doomed to disappointment- in the 
long run. Ward had seen the gold fever sweep through 
a community and spoil life for the weak ones who took 
to chasing the will-o'-the-wisp of sudden wealth. Tramps 
of the pick-and-pan brigade they should not come 
swarming into these hills on any wild-goose chase, if 
he could help it. And he could and should. This 
was not, properly speaking, a gold country. He knew 
it. The rock formations did not point to any great 
deposit of the mineral, and if he had found one, it 
was a fluke, an accident. He resolved that his first 
consideration should be the keeping of his secret for 
the mental well-being of his fellows. 

Ward did not put it quite so altruistically. His 
thoughts formed into sentences. 

" This is cattle country. If men want to hunt gold, 
they can do their hunting somewhere else. They can't 
go digging up the whole blamed country just on the 
chance of finding another pocket like this one. I 'm 
in the cattle business myself. If I find any gold, it '11 
go into cattle and stay there; and there won't be any 
long-haired freaks pestering around here if I can help 
it, and I reckon maybe I can, all right. 

" I 'd sure like to talk it over with Billy, but what 
she don't know won't worry her ; and I don't know yet 
what I 've gone up against. Maybe old Dame For- 
tune 's just played another joke on me played me 



114 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

for a fool again. I '11 take a chance, but I won't give 
that little girl down below there anything to spoil her 
sleep." 

Ward's memory was like glue, and while it , held 
things he would give much to forget, still it served 
him well. He had ridden past a tiny, partly caved-in 
dugout, months ago, where some wandering prospector 
had camped while he braved the barrenness of the hills 
and streams hereabout. Ward had dismounted and 
glanced into the cavelike hut. ISTow, after he had eaten 
a few mouthfuls of dinner, he rode straight over to 
that dugout and got the goldpan he remembered to 
have seen there. It was not in the best condition, of 
course. It was battered and bent, but it would do for 
the present. 

By the time he reached the wolf den, the sun was 
nearing the western rim of hills, but Ward had time 
to examine the locality more carefully than he had 
done at first and to wash a couple of pans of gravel. 
The test elated him perceptibly; for while there did 
not seem to be the makings of a millionaire in that 
gravel bank, he judged roughly that he could make a 
plumber's wages if he worked hard enough and that 
looked pretty good to a fellow who had worked all his 
life for forty dollars a month. " Two-bits a pan, just 
about," he put it to himself. " And I '11 have to pack 
the dirt down here to the creek ; but I '11 dig a nice 
little bunch of cattle out of that gravel bank before 
snow flies, or I miss my guess a mile." 

As nearly as he could figure, he had chanced upon 
a split channel. For ages, he judged, the water had 
run upon that ledge, leaving the streak of gravel and 



HELP FOR THE COW BUSINESS 115 

what little gold it had carried down from the mountains. 
Then some freshet had worn over the edge of the break 
in the rock until the ledge and its deposit was left high 
and dry on the side of the gulch, while the creek flowed 
through the gully it had formed below. It might not 
be the correct explanation, but it satisfied Ward and 
encouraged him to believe that the streak of pay gravel 
lay along the ledge within easy reach. 

He tried to trace the ledge up and down the gulch 
and to estimate the probable extent of that pay streak. 
Then he gave it up in self-defense. " I 've got to watch 
my dodgers," he admonished himself, " or I '11 go plumb 
loco and imagine I 'm a millionaire. I '11 pan what 
I can get at and let it go at that. And I Ve got to 
count what gold shows up in the sack and no more. 
Good Lord ! I can't afford to make a fool of myself 
at this stage of the game ! I 've got to sit right down 
on my imagination and stick to hard-boiled facts." 

He went home in a very good humor with himself 
and the world, for all that. So far as he could see, 
the thing that had been bothering him was settled most 
satisfactorily. He had wanted to spend the summer 
on his claim, making improvements and watching over 
his cattle. There was fence to build and some hay 
to cut; and he would like to build another room on to 
the cabin. "Ward had certain fastidious instincts, and 
he rebelled inwardly at eating, sleeping, and cooking 
all in one small room. But he had not been able to 
solve the problem of earning a living while he did all 
this to say nothing of buying supplies. And he 
really needed a team and tools, if he meant to put up 
any hay. 



116 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Now, with that pay gravel within reach, and the gold 
running twenty-five cents to the pan, and the occa- 
sional tiny nuggets jumping up the yield now and then, 
he could go ahead and do the things he wanted to do. 
And he could dream about having a certain gray-eyed 
girl for his wife, without calling himself names after- 
ward. 

So he set to work the next morning in dead earnest 
with pick, shovel, and pan, to make the most of his 
little find. He shoveled the dirt and gravel into a 
gunny sack, threw the sack as far as he could over 
the ledge at the end, where it was not hidden and clut- 
tered with the cherry-trees and service berries below, 
and when it stopped rolling, he carried it the rest 
of the way. Then he panned it in the little creek, 
watching like a hawk for nuggets and the finer gold. 
It was back-breaking work, and he felt that he earned 
every cent he got. But the cents were there, in good 
gold, and he was perfectly willing to work for what 
he received in this world. 

After a couple of weeks he stopped long enough to 
make a hurried trip to Hardup, a little town forty 
miles farther up in the hills. In the little bank there 
he exchanged his gold harvest for coin of the realm, 
and he was well satisfied with the result. It was not 
a fortune, nor was he likely to find one in the hills. 
But he bought a team, wagon, and harness with the 
money, and he had enough left over for a /two-months' 
grubstake and plenty of Durham and papers and a few 
magazines. That left him just enough silver to pay 
Rattler's bill at the livery stable. Nothing startling, 
but still not bad that wolf-den find. 



HELP FOR THE COW BUSINESS 117 

He had a lot of trouble getting his wagon to his 
claim, but by judicious driving and the liberal use 
of a log-chain for a rough lock, he managed to land the 
whole outfit in the little flat before the cabin without 
any mishap. After that he settled down to work the 
thing systematically. 

One day he would pan the sandy gravel, and the next 
day he would rest his back digging post-holes or some- 
thing comparatively easy. He worked from daybreak 
until it was too dark to see, and he never left his claim- 
except when he went to wash gold up in the gulch. 
The world moved on, and he neither knew nor cared 
how it moved; for the time being his world had nar- 
rowed amazingly. If Billy Louise had not been down 
there in that other world, he would scarcely have given 
it a thought, so absorbed was he in the delightful task 
of putting a good, solid foundation under his favorite 
air-castle. That fascinated him, held him to his work 
in spite of his hunger to see her and talk with her and 
watch the changing lights in her eyes and the fleeting 
expressions of her face. 

Some day he hoped he would have her with him 
always. He put it stronger than that: Some day he 
would have her with him, there in that little valley he 
had chosen ; riding with him over those hills that smiled 
and seemed to stand there waiting for their invasions, 
with the echoes ready to fling back his exultant voice 
when he called to her or sang for her or laughed at 
her; ready to imitate enviously her voice when she 
laughed back at him. He wanted that day to come 
soon, and so with days and hours and minutes he be- 
came a miser and would not spend them in the luxury 



118 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

of a visit to her. It seemed to him that his longing 
for her measured itself hy the enormous appetite he 
had for work, that summer. 

Week followed week as he followed that thin, fluc- 
tuating streak of pay gravel along the ledge. Some- 
times it was rich enough to set the pulse pounding in 
his temples ; sometimes it was so poor that he was dis- 
gusted to the point of abandoning the work. But every 
day he worked, it yielded him something though 
there was a week when he averaged ahout fifty cents a 
day and lived with a scowl on his face and lie kept 
at it. 

He went out in June and bought a mower and rake 
and then spent precious days getting them into his val- 
ley. There was no road, you see, and he was compelled 
to haul them in a wagon, through country where na- 
ture never meant four wheels to- pass. He hired a man 
for a month one of those migratory individuals who 
works for a week or a month in one place and then 
wanders on till his money is spent and he drove that 
man as relentlessly as he drove himself. Together 
they accomplished much, while the goldpan lay hid- 
den under a buck brush and Ward's waking moments 
were filled with an uneasy sense of wasted time. Still, 
it was for the good of his ranch and his cattle and his 
air-castle that he toiled in the gulch, and it was neces- 
sary that he should put up what hay he could. There 
would be calves to feed next winter, he hoped; and 
when the hardest storms came, his horse would need a 
little. The rest of the stock would have to rustle ; and 
that was why he had chosen this nook among the hills, 
where the wind would sweep the high slopes bare of 



HELP FOR THE COW BUSINESS 119 

snow, and the gulches would give shelter with their 
heavy thickets of quaking aspens and willow and alder. 

He was thankful when the creek bottom was shaved 
clean of grass, and the stack beside his corral was of a 
satisfying length and height. The summer had been 
kind to the grass-growth, and his hay crop was larger 
than he had expected. A few days had remained of 
the month, and Ward had used them to extend his fence 
so as to give more pasturage to his calves in mild 
weather. After that he paid the man, directed him 
to the nearest point on the stage road, and breathed 
thanks that he was alone again, and could go back to 
his plan of digging a nice little bunch of cattle out of 
that bank before snow flew. 



CHAPTER IX 

WHEW EMOTIONS ARE BOTTLED 

ONE day, when the sun was warm and the breeze 
that filtered down the gorge was pleasantly cool, 
Ward straightened his aching back, waded out to dry 
ground, and sat down to rest a few minutes and make 
a smoke. His interest in the work had oozed steadily 
since sunrise, and left nothing but the back-breaking 
toil. He had found a nugget the size of a hazelnut in 
the second pan that morning, so it was not discourage- 
ment that had made his monotonous movements grow 
slow and reluctant. Until he had smoked half the 
cigarette, he himself did not know what it was that 
ailed him. Then he flung up his head quite sud- 
denly and gave a snort of understanding. 

" Hang the gold ! I 'm going visiting for a change." 
He concealed the goldpan and his pick, shovel, and 
sacks in the clump of service berries and chokeberries 
that grew at the foot of the ledge and hid from view 
the bank where he dug out his pay dirt. That did not 
take more than two or three minutes, and he made 
them up after he had swung into the saddle on the 
farther hillside. It was not a good trail, and except 
for his first exultant ride home that way, he had rid- 
den it at a walk. Now he made Rattler trot where 
loping was too risky; and so he came clattering down 
the steep trail into the little flat beside his cabin. He 



EMOTIONS BOTTLED 121 

would have something to eat, and feed Rattler a lit- 
tle hay, and then ride on to the Wolverine. And now 
that he had yielded to his hunger to see the one person 
in the world for whom he felt any tenderness, he grudged 
every minute that separated him from her. He loos- 
ened the cinch with one or two yanks and left the saddle 
on Rattler, to save time. He turned him loose in the 
hay corral with the bridle off, rather than spend the 
extra minutes it would take to put him in a stall and 
carry him a forkful of hay. He thought he would not- 
bother to start a fire and boil coffee ; he would eat 
the sour-dough bread and fried rabbit hams he had 
taken with him for lunch, and he would start down 
the creek in half an hour. He imagined himself an 
extremely sensible young man and considerate of his 
horse's comfort, to give him thirty precious minutes in 
which to eat hay. It was not absolutely necessary ; Rat- 
tler could travel forty miles instead of twenty without 
another mouthful, so far as that was concerned. Ward 
was simply behaving in a perfectly normal manner 
and was not letting his feelings get the better of him 
in the slightest degree. As to his impromptu vacation, 
he was certainly entitled to it ; he ought to have taken 
one long ago, he told himself virtuously. He had panned 
dirt all day, the Fourth of July ; that was last week> he 
believed. And he had not made more than two dol- 
lars, either. No, he was not behaving foolishly at all. 
He had himself well in hand. 

Then he flung open the door f his cabin and went 
white with sheer astonishment. 

" 'Lo, Ward ! " Billy Louise had been standing be- 
hind the door, and she jumped out at him, laughing, 



122 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

just as if she were ten years old instead of nearly 
twenty. 

Ward tried to say, " 'Lo, Bill," in return, but the 
words would not come. His lips trembled too much, 
and his voice was pinched out in his throat. His mind 
refused to tell him what he ought to do; but his arms 
did not wait upon his paralyzed mental processes. They 
shot out of their own accord, caught Billy Louise, and 
brought her close against his pounding heart. Ward 
was startled and a little shocked at what he had done, 
but he held her closer and closer, until Billy Louise 
was gasping from -something more than surprise. 

Next, Ward's lips joined the mutiny against his rea- 
son, and laid themselves upon the parted, panting lips 
of Billy Louise, as though that was where they be- 
longed. 

Billy Louise had probably not expected anything 
like that, though of a truth one can never safely guess 
at what is in the mind of a girl. She tried to pull 
herself free, and when she could make no impression 
upon the grip of those arms they had been growing 
muscles of iron manipulating that goldpan, remem- 
ber ! she very sensibly yielded to necessity and stood 
still. 

" Stop, Ward ! You I you have n't any right 
to " 

" Well, give me the right, then." Ward managed to 
find voice enough to make the demand, and then he 
kissed her many times before he attempted to say an- 
other word. Lord, but he had been hungry for her, 
these last three months! 

" You '11 give me the right, won't you, Wilhemina ? " 



EMOTIONS BOTTLED 123 

he murmured against her ear, brushing a lock of hair 
away with his lips. " You know you belong to me, 
don't you? And I belong to you body and soul. 
You know that, don't you ? I 've known it ever since 
the world was made. I knew it when God said, ' Let 
there be light,' and there was light. You were it" 

" You sill-y thing." Billy Louise did not seem to 
know whether she wanted to laugh or cry. " What do 
you think you 're talking about, anyway ? " 

" About the way the world was made." Ward loos- 
ened his clasp a little and looked down deep into her 
eyes. " My world, I mean." He bent and kissed her 
again, gravely and very, very tenderly. " Oh, Wil- 
hemina, you know " he waited, gazing down with 
that intent look which had a new softness behind it 
" you know there 's nothing in this world but you. As 
far as I 'm concerned, there isn't. There never will 
be." 

Billy Louise reached up her hands to his shoulders 
and tried to give him a shake. " Is that why you 've 
stuck yourself in these hills for three whole months and 
never come near ? You fibber ! " 

" That 's why, lady-girl. I 've been sticking here, 
working like one son-of-a-gun for you. So I could 
have you sooner." He lifted his bent head and looked 
around the little cabin like a man who has just wak- 
ened to his surroundings. " I knocked off work a 
little while ago, and I was going to see you. I could n't 
stand it any longer. And here you iss ! " he went on, 
giving her shoulders a little squeeze. " A straight case 
of ' two souls with but a single thought,' don't you 
reckon ? " 



124 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Billy Louise, by a visible effort, brought the situa- 
tion down to earth. She twisted herself free and went 
over to the stove and saved a frying-pan of potatoes 
from burning to a crisp. 

" I don't know about your soul/' she said, glancing 
back at him. " I happen to have two or three thoughts 
in mine. One is that I 'm half starved. The second 
is that you're not acting a bit nice, under the cir- 
cumstances ; no perfectly polite young man makes love 
to a girl when she is supposedly helpless and under 
his protection." She stopped there to wrinkle her nose 
at him and twist her mouth humorously. " The third 
thought is that if you don't behave, I shall go straight 
home and never be nice to you again. And," she added, 
getting back of the coffee-pot which looked new 
" the rest of my soul is one great big blob of ques- 
tion-marks. If you can eat and talk at the same time, 
you may tell me what this frantic industry is all about. 
If you can't, I '11 have to wait till after dinner ; not 
even my curiosity is going to punish my poor tummy 
any longer." She pulled a pan of biscuits from the 
oven, lifted them out one at a time with dainty little 
nabs because they were hot, and stole a glance now 
and then at Ward from under her eyebrows. 

Ward stood and looked at her until the food was 
all on the table. He was breathing unnaturally, and 
his jaws were set hard together. When she pushed a 
box up to the table and sat down upon it, and rested 
her elbows on the oilcloth and looked straight at him 
with her chin nested in her two palms, he drew a long 
breath, hunched his shoulders with some mental sur- 
render, and grinned wryly. 



EMOTIONS BOTTLED 125 

" So be it," he yielded, throwing his hat upon the 
bunk. " I kinda overplayed my hand, anyway. I 
most humblj ask your pardon ! " He bowed farcically 
and took up the wash-basin from its bench just outside 
the door. 

" You see, William Louisa," he went on quizzically, 
when he had seated himself opposite her and was help- 
ing himself to the potatoes, " when a young lady in- 
vades strange territory, and hides behind strange doors, 
and jumps out at an unsuspecting but terribly well- 
meaning young man, she 's apt to get a surprise. When 
emotions are bottled " 

" Never mind the bottled emotions. I 'd like some 
potatoes, if you don't want them all. I see you have n't 
the faintest idea how to treat a guest. Charlie Pox 
would have died before he would help himself and 
set down the dish away out of my reach. You could 
stick pins into him till he howled, but you could n't 
make him be rude to a lady." 

" I 'd sure like to," muttered Ward ambiguously and 
handed her every bit of food within his reach. 

" You can talk and eat at the same time, I see. 
So tell me what you 've been doing all this while." 
Billy Louise spoke lightly, even flippantly, but her eyes 
were making lore to him shyly, whether she knew it 
or not. 

" Working," answered Ward promptly and briefly. 
He was thinking at the rate of a million thoughts a 
minute, it seemed to him, and he was afraid to let 
go of himself and say what he thought. One thing 
he knew beyond all doubt, and that was that he must 
be careful or he would see his air-castle blow up in 



126 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

small fragments and come down a hopeless ruin. He 
needed time to think, and Billy Louise was not giv- 
ing him even a minute. So he clutched at two deci- 
sions which instinct told him might help him win to 
safety: He would not make love, and he would not 
tell Billy Louise about the gold. 

" Working ! Well, so have I. But working at what ? 
Did you hire out to Junkins again ? I thought you said 
you would n't till fall." Billy Louise was watching 
Ward rather closely, perhaps to see how far she might 
trust his recovered inscrutability. " Why don't you 
show some human inquisitiveness about my being 
here ? " she asked irrelevantly, just as Ward was hast- 
ily choosing how he would answer her without saying 
too much. 

" It would n't be polite to be inquisitive about a 
lady, would it ? " Ward retorted, thankful for the change 
of subject. 

" N-no but, then, you never bother about being 
just polite ! Charlie Fox would " 

" Charlie Fox would think you came to see him," 
Ward asserted uncharitably. " My head is n't swelled 
to that extent. Why did you come, anyway ? " 

" To see you." Billy Louise lost her nerve when 
she saw the light leap into his eyes. " To see whether 
you were dead or not," she revised hastily, " so mom- 
mie would stop worrying about you. Mommie has 
pestered the life out of me for the last month, think- 
ing you might be sick or hurt or something. So I 
was riding up this way, anyway, and ' 

" I see I '11 have to ride down and prove to mommie 
that I 'm very much alive. I 'm sure glad to know that 



EMOTIONS BOTTLED 127 

somebody takes an interest in me as if I were a real 
human." Ward's eyes watched furtively her face, but 
Billy Louise refused even to nibble at the bait. 

" Why didn't you come before, then ? You know 
mommie likes to have you." 

" How about mommie's child ? " Ward's look was 
dangerous to his good resolutions. 

" Listen here, Ward." Billy Louise took refuge 
behind her terrible frankness. " If you make love, I 
won't like you half as well. Don't you know that 
all the time when I used to play with my pretend Ward 
Warren, he he never made love ? " A dimple tried 
to show itself in her cheek and was sent about its busi- 
ness with a twist of her lips. " My pretend Ward 
was lovely; he liked me to pieces, but he never came 
right out and said so. He he skated around the sub- 
ject " Billy Louise illustrated the skating process 
by drawing her forefinger in a wide circle around her 
cup. " He made love with his eyes and he kissed 
me with his voice but he never spoiled it with 
words." 

Ward grunted a word that sounded like " dam- 
chump." 

" Nothing of the kind ! " Billy Louise flew to the 
defense of her " pretend." " He knew just exactly how 
a girl likes to be made love to. And, anyway, you 've 
been doing the selfsame thing yourself, Ward War- 
ren, till just now. And " 

"Oh, have I?" 

" Yes, you have. And I might have known better 
than to to startle you. You always, eternally, do 
something nobody 'd ever dream of your doing. The 



128 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

first time, when I threw that chip, you pulled a gun 
on ine " The voice of Billy Louise squeezed down 
to a wisp of a whisper. Her eyes were remorseful. 
" Oh, Ward, I did n't mean to to " 

" It 's all right. I 've got it coming." It was as 
if a mask had dropped before Ward's features. Even 
his eyes looked strange and hard in that face of set 
muscles, though the thin, bitter lips and quivering 
nostrils showed that there was feeling behind it all. 
" I see where you 're right, William. You need n't be 
afraid; I won't make love again." 

Billy Louise looked as though she wanted to beat 
something herself, most likely. She stared as they 
stare who watch from the dock while a loved one slips 
farther and farther away on a voyage from which 
there may be no return; only Billy Louise was not 
one to watch and do nothing else. 

"Now, Ward, don't be silly." The fright in her 
voice was overlaid with a sharpened tenderness. " You 
know perfectly well I did n't mean that. You 're only 
proving that in the human problem you 're raised 
to Stop looking- darning-needles at that coffee-pot 
and listen here ! " Billy Louise leaned over the table 
and caught at his nearest hand, which was a closed 
fist. With her own little fingers digging persistently 
:nto the tensed muscles, she pried the fist open. 
" Ward, behave yourself, or I '11 go straight home ! " 
She held his straightened fingers in her own and drew 
a sharp breath because they lay inert dead things 
so far as any response came to her clasp; the first and 
middle fingers yellowed a little from cigarettes, the 
nails soft and pink from much immersion in water. 



EMOTIONS BOTTLED 129 

A tale they told, if Billy Louise had been paying 
attention. 

" Ward, you certainly are the limit ! You know 
as well as I do that that does n't make a particle of 
difference. If I had been a boy instead of a girl, and 
had bucked the world for a living, I 'd probably have 
done worse ; and, anyway, it does n't matter ! " Her 
voice rose as if she were growing desperate. "I 
I like you to pieces, Ward, and I 'd I 'd rather 
marry you than anyone else. But I don't want to 
think about that for a long while. I don't want to 
be engaged, or or any different than the way we Ve 
been. It was good to be just pals. It was like my 
pretend Ward. I I always wanted him to love 
me, but I wouldn't play that he told me, Ward. 
Oh, don't you see ? " She shut her teeth hard together, 
because if she had n't she would have been crying in 
another ten seconds. 

" I see." Ward spoke dully, evenly, and he still 
stared at the coffee-pot with that gimlet gaze of his 
that made Billy Louise want to scream. " I see a 
whole lot that I 'd been shutting my eyes to. Why don't 
you feel insulted " 

" Ward Warren, if you 're going to act like a 
a " I suspect that Billy Louise, in her desperation, 
was tempted to use a swear word, but she resisted the 
temptation. She got up and went around to him, hesi- 
tated while she looked down at his set face, drew a long 
breath, and blinked back some tears of self-reproach 
because of the devils of memory she had unwittingly 
turned loose to jibe at this man. 

"This is why," she said softly; and leaning, she 



130 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

pressed her lips down upon his bitter ones and let 
them lie there for a dozen heart-beats. 

Ward's face relaxed, and his eyes went to hers with 
the hungry tenderness she had seen so often there. He 
leaned his head against her and threw up an arm to 
clasp her close. He did not say a word. 

" After I have kissed a man," said Billy Louise, 
struggling back to her old whimsical manner, " it won't 
be a bit polite for him to have any doubts of my feel- 
ings toward him, or my belief in him, or his belief in 
himself." Her fingers tangled themselves in his hair, 
just where the wave was the most pronounced. 

She had drawn the poison. Now she set herself to 
restore a perfectly normal atmosphere. 

" He 's going to be just exactly the same good pal 
he was before," she went on, speaking softly. " And 
he ? s going to bring some water so I can wash the 
dishes, and then bring Blue so I can go home, and he 
is n't going to say a single thing more about any- 
thing that matters two whoops." 

Ward's clasp tightened and then grew loose. He 
drew a long breath and let her go. 

" You do like me a little bit, don't you ? " His 
eyes were like the eyes of the damned asking for 
water. 

" I like you two little bits." Billy Louise took his 
face between her two palms and smiled down at him 
bravely, with the pure candor that was a part of her. 
" But I don't want us to be anything but pals ; not 
for a long while. It 's so good, just being friends. 
And once we get away from that point, we can't go 
back to it again, ever. And I 'm sure it 's good enough 



EMOTIONS BOTTLED 131 

to be worth while making it last as long as we can. 
So now " 

" It 's going to be quite a contract, Wilhemina." 
Ward still looked at her with his heart in his eyes. 

" Oh, no, it won't ! You 've had lots of practice," 
Billy Louise assured him confidently and began putting 
the few dishes in a neat little pile. " And, anyway, 
you are perfectly able to handle any kind of a con- 
tract. All you need do is make up your mind. And 
that 's made up already. So the next thing on the 
programme is to bring a bucket of water. Did you 
notice anything different about your cabin? I 
thought you bragged to me about being such a good 
housekeeper ! Why, you had n't swept the floor, even, 
since goodness knows when. And I 've made up a 
bundle of your dirty shirts and things that I found 
under the bed, and I 'm going to take them home and 
let Phrebe wash them. She can do them this evening 
and have them ready for you to bring back to-morrow. 
When I was a kid and went to see Marthy and Jase, 
I used to promise them cookies with ' raisings ' in the 
middle. I thought there was nothing better in the 
world. I was just thinking I '11 maybe bake you 
some cookies with raisings on top, to bring home. You 
don't seem to waste much time cooking stuff. Bacon 
and beans, and potatoes and sour-dough bread: that 
seems to be your regular bill of fare. And tomatoes 
for Sunday, I reckon ; I saw some empty cans outside. 
Don't you ever feel like coming down to the ranch and 
getting a square meal ? " 

" Oh, you William the Conqueror ! " Ward stood 
with the water bucket in his hand, and looked at her 



132 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

with that smile hidden just behind his lips and his 
eyes. " You sure sahe how to make things come your 
way, don't you ? " He started for the door, stopped 
with his toes over the threshold, and looked back at 
her. " If I knew how to get what I want, as easily 
as you do," he said, "we'd be married and keeping 
house before to-morrow night ! " He laughed grimly 
at the start she gave. " As it is, you 're the doctor, 
I William Louisa. We remain mere friends ! " With 
that he went off to the creek. 

He was gone at least four times as long as was 
necessary, but he came back whistling, and he did t 
make love to her except with his eyes. 



CHAPTER X 



THIS PAL BUSINESS 



"TTDU'VE s ot q uite a lot of hav P ut U P> J see >" 

X Billy Louise remarked, when they were leaving. 

" Sure. I told you I 've been working." Ward's 
tone was cheerful to the point of exuberance. He felt 
as though he could work day and night now, with the 
memory of Billy Louise's lips upon his own. 

" You never put up that hay alone," she told him 
bluntly, " and you need n't try to make me believe you 
did. I know better." 

" How do you know ? " Ward glanced over his 
shoulder at the stack, then humorously at her. He 
recognized the futility of trying to fool Billy Louise, 
but he was in the mood to tease her. 

" Humph ! I 've helped stack hay myself, if you 
please. I can tell a one-man stack when I see it. Who 
did you get to help ? Junkins ? " 

" No, a half-baked hobo I ran across. I had him 
here a month." 

" Oh ! Are those your horses down there ? They 
can't be." Last April, Billy Louise had been very 
well informed as to Ward's resources. She was evi- 
dently trying to match her knowledge of their well- 
defined limitations with what she saw now of pros- 
perity in its first stages. 



134 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" They are, though. A dandy span of mares. I gt 
a bargain there." 

Billy Louise pondered a minute. " Ward, yon 
are n't going into debt, are you ? " Her tone was anx- 
ious. " It 's so beastly hard to get out, once you 're 
in!" 

" I don't owe anybody a red cent, William Louisa. 
Honest." 

" Well, but " Billy Louise looked at him from 
under puckered brows. 

Ward laughed oddly. " I 've been working, Wil- 
liam. Last spring I hunted wolves for awhile ; old 
ones and dens. They 'd killed a couple of calves for 
me, and I got out after them. I made good at it ; 
the bounty counts up pretty fast, you know." 

" Yes-s, it does." Billy Louise bit her lips thought- 
fully, turned and looked back at the haystack, at the 
long line of new, wire fence, and at the two heavy- 
set mares feeding contentedly along the creek. " There 
must be money in wolves," she remarked evenly. 

" There is. At least, I made good money hunting 
them." The smile was hiding behind Ward's lips again 
and threatening to come boldly to the surface. " They 
have n't bothered you any, I hope ? " 

" No," said Billy Louise, " they haven't. I guess 
they must be all up your way." 

For the life of him Ward could not tell to a cer- 
tainty whether there was sarcasm in her tone or whether 
she spoke in perfect innocence. The shrewdest of us 
deceive ourselves sometimes. Ward might have known 
he could not fool Billy Louise, who had careworn ex- 
perience of the cost of ranch improvements and could 



THIS PAL BUSINESS 135 

figure almost the exact number of wolf-bounties it would 
take to pay for what he had put into his claim. Still, 
he was right in thinking she would not quiz him be- 
yond a certain point. She seemed to have reached that 
point quite suddenly, for she did not say another word 
about Ward's affairs. 

'* What all 's been happening in the world, anyway ? " 
he asked, when they had exhausted some very trivial 
subjects. " Your world, I mean. Anything new or 
startling taken place ? " 

" Not a thing. Marthy was down last week and 
spent the day with us. I never saw anybody change 
as much as she has. She looks almost neat, these days. 
And she can't talk about anything but Charlie and how 
well he 's doing. She lets him do most of the man- 
aging, I think. And he had some money left to him, 
this spring, and has put it into cattle. He bought quite 
a lot of mixed stock from Seabeck and some from 
Winters and kelson, Marthy says. I passed some of 
his cattle coming up." 

" Going to have a rival in the business, am I ? " 
Ward laughed. " I was figuring on being the only thriv- 
ing young cattle-king in this neck of the woods, my- 
self." 

" Well, Charlie 's in a fair way to beat you to it. 
I wish," sighed Billy Louise, " some kind person would 
leave me a bunch of money. Don't you? Cattle are 
coming up a little all the time. I 'd like to own a 
lot more than I do." 

" Well, we " Ward stopped and reconsidered. 
" If wolfing continues to pay like it has done," he said, 
with a twitch of the lips, " I intend to stick my little 



136 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Y 6 monogram on a few more cowhides before snow 
flies, William. And when you 've had enough of this 
friend business " 

" Oh, by that time we '11 all be rich ! " Billy Louise 
declared lightly, and for a wonder Ward 'was -wise 
enough to let that close the subject. 

" We 're getting neighbors down below, too," she b- 
served later. " I did n't tell you that. Down the river 
a few miles. The country is settling up all the time," 
she sighed. " Pretty soon there won't be any more 
wilderness left. I like it up where you Ve located. 
That will stay wild forever, won't it? They can't 
plant spuds on those hills, anyway. 

" And did you hear, Ward ? Seabeck and some 
of the others hare been losing stock, they say. You 
know Marthy lost four calves last fall, by some means. 
Charlie Fox was terribly worried about it, though it 
was his own fault, and well, I thought at the time 
someone had taken them, and I think so still. And 
just the other day one of Seabeck's men stopped at 
the ranch, and he told me they 're shy some cows 
and calves. They can't imagine what went with them, 
and they 're lying low and not saying anything much 
about it. You haven't heard or seen anything, hare 
you, Ward?" 

" I 've stuck so close to the hills I have n't heard 
or seen anything," Ward affirmed. " It 's amazing, 
the way the days slip by when a fellow 's busy all the 
time. Except for two trips out the other way, to 
Hardup, I have n't been three miles from my claim 
all spring." 

" Hardup ! That 's where the bank was robbed, a few 



THIS PAL BUSINESS 137 

weeks ago, is n't it ? The stage-driver told me about 
it." 

" I don't know ; I had n't heard anything about it. 
I have n't been there for a month and more," said Ward 
easily. " Nearer two months, come to think of it. I 
was there after a mower and rake and some wire." 

" Oh ! " Billy Louise glanced at him sidelong and 
added several more wolves to the number she had men- 
tally put down to Ward's credit. 

Ward twisted in the saddle so that he faced her, 
and his eyes were dancing with mischief. " Honest, 
William, I 'm not wading into debt. Every cent I 've 
put into that place this summer I made hunting wolves. 
That 's a fact, Wilhemina." 

" I wish you 'd tell me how, so I can do it, too," 
Billy Louise sighed, convinced by his tone and flat 
statement, yet feeling certain there was some " catch " 
to it, after all. It was exactly like a riddle that sounds 
perfectly plain and simple to the ears, and to the rea- 
son utterly impossible. 

" Well, I will when you 're through playing pals," 
he assured her cruelly. Ward did not know women 
rery well, but he believed curiosity to be one of the 
strongest traits in the sex. " That 's a bargain, Wil- 
liam Louisa, and I '11 shake hands on it if you like. 
When you 've had enough of this just-friend business, 
I '11 show you how I dig dollars outa wolf-dens." He 
grinned at the puzzled face of her. It was a riddle, 
and he had practically put the answer before her, and 
still she could not see it. There was a little streak 
of devilment in Ward, and happiness was uncovering 
the streak. 



138 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" I never said I was crazy to know," Billy Louise 
squelched him promptly. " Not that crazy, anyway. 
'I '11 live quite as long without knowing, I reckon." 

She almost won her point because Ward did not 
know women very well. He hesitated, gave her a quick, 
questioning glance, and actually opened his lips to tell 
her all about it. He got as far as, " Oh, well, I sup- 
pose I '11 have to " when Billy Louise saw a rattle- 
snake in the trail ahead and spurred up to kill it with 
her rope. She really was crazy to know the answer 
to the riddle, but a rattlesnake will interrupt anything 
from a proposal of marriage to a murder. 

Ward's fingers had gone into the pocket in his shirt 
where the nugget he had found that morning was sag- 
ging the cloth a little. He had been on the point of 
giving it to Billy Louise, but he let it stay where it 
was and instead took down his own rope to get after 
the snake, that had crawled under a bush and there 
showed a disposition to fight. And since Blue was 
no fonder of rattlesnakes -than he was of mud, Billy 
Louise could not bring him close enough for a direct 
blow. 

" Get back, and I '11 show you why I named this 
cayuse Battler," Ward shouted. " I '11 bet I 've killed 
five hundred snakes with him " 

" Almost as many as you have wolves ! " Billy Louise 
snapped back at him and so lost her point just when she 
had practically gained it. Ward certainly would not 
tell her, after that stab. 

Rattler perked his ears forward toward the strident 
buzzing which once heard is never forgotten, and which 
is never heard without a tensing of nerves. He sighted 



THIS PAL BUSINESS 139 

the snake, coiled and ready for war in the small shade 
of a rabbit-bush. He circled the spot warily, his head 
turned sidewise, and his eyes fixed upon the flattened, 
ugly head with its thread of a darting tongue. 

Ward pulled his gun, " threw down " on the snake, 
and cut off its head with a bullet. 

" I could have done that myself," Billy Louise as- 
serted jealously. 

"Well, I forgot. Next time I'll let you do the 
shooting. I was going to show you how Rattler helps. 
He '11 circle around just right so I can make one swing: 
of the rope do. But Mr. Snake stuck too close to 
that rabbit brush; and I was afraid if I drove him 
out of there with my rope, he 'd get under those rocks. 
I 'm sorry, Wilhemina. I did n't think." 

" Oh, I can get all the snake-shooting I want, any 
time." Billy Louise laughed good-humoredly. " I 
wish you 'd give Blue a few lessons the old sin- 
ner!" 

" Not on your life, I won't." Ward leaned from 
the saddle, picked up the snake by the tail, pinched 
off the rattles, and dropped the repulsive thing to the 
ground with a slight shiver of relief. He gave the 
rattles to Billy Louise. " I 'm glad Blue does feel 
a wholesome respect for rattlers ; he '11 take better care 
of himself and his mistress. With me it doesn't 
matter." 

" Oh does n't it ? " asked Billy Louise, and there 
was that in her tone that made Ward's heart give a 
flop. " There 's some of Marthy's cattle right ahead," 
she added hurriedly, seizing the first trifle with which 
to neutralize the effect of that tone. 



140 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" MK monogram," said Ward absently, reading the 
brand mechanically, as is the habit of your true range 
man. " Pretty fresh, too. Must have just bought 
them." 

" He got them a month or so ago," said Billy Louise. 
" Marthy says " 

" A month ? " Ward turned and gave the cow near- 
est him a keener look. " Pretty good condition," he 
observed, quite idly. " Say, William, when these hills 
get filled up with Y6es and big Ds, all these other 
scrub critters will have to hunt new range, won't 
they?" 

" It will be a long while before the big Ds crowd out 
so much as a crippled calf," Billy Louise answered 
pessimistically. " I lost two nice heifers, a week or so 
ago. They broke through the upper fence into the 
alfalfa and started to fill up, of course. They were 
dead when I found them." 

" Next time I cash in my wolf " Ward started to 
promise, but she cut him short. 

" Do you mind if we stop at the Cove, Ward ? Mom- 
mie wanted me to stop and get some currants. Marthy 
says they 're ripe, and she has more than she knows 
what to do with." 

" I don't mind if you 're dead sure it 's the cur- 
rants." 

" You certainly are in a pestering mood to-day," 
Billy Louise protested, laughing. " You can't jump 
any game on that trail, smarty. Charlie Fox is a 
perfectly lovely young man, but he 's got a girl in 
Wyoming. The stage-driver says there 's never been 
a trip in that he did n't take a letter from the Cove 



THIS PAL BUSINESS 141 

box to Miss Gertrude M. Shannon, Elk Valley, Wyo- 
ming. So you need n't try " 

" Nice, mouthy stage-driver," Ward commented. 
" Foxy ought to land on him a few times and see if 
he'd take the hint." 

" Well, I knew it before he told me. Marthy said 
last winter that Charlie 's engaged. He 's trying to 
get prosperous enough to marry her and bring her out 
to the Cove; it will be his when Marthy dies, any- 
way. I must say Charlie 's a hustler, all right. He 
keeps a man all the time now, since he bought more 
cattle. Peter Howling Dog 's working for him. Char- 
lie 's tried to range-herd his cattle so he and Peter can 
gather them alone; and he offered to look after mine, 
too, so I won't have so much riding to do this hot 
weather. He 's awfully nice, Ward, really. I don't care 
if he is a rah-rah boy. And he is n't a bit in love with 
me." 

" Is it possible," grinned Ward, " that any human 
man can come out West and not fall in love with the 
Prairie Flower " 

" Ward Warren, do you want me to " 

" But it 's breaking all the rules of romance, Bill- 
the-Conk ! " Ward persisted. " No story-sharp would 
ever stand for a thing like that. Don't you know that 
the nice young man from college always takes notice 
in the second chapter, says ( By Jove ! What a little 
beauty ! ' in the third, and from there on till the wind-up 
spends most of his time running around in circles be- 
cause the beautiful flower of the rancho gives him the 
bad eye ? " He twisted sidewise in the saddle, took 
a half-hitch with the reins around the saddle-horn, and 



142 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

proceeded to manufacture a cigarette while he went 
on with the burlesque. 

" It opened out according to Hoyle, a year ago, Wil- 
liam. Nice young man comes west. Finds Flower of 
the Eancho first rattle of the box, with brave young 
buckaroo riding herd on her to beat four of a kind. 
Looks like there 's no chance for our young hero. Brave 
buckaroo has to hie him forth to toil, however " 
Ward paused long enough to light up, and afterwards 
blow out the match carefully before dropping it in 
the trail, " at the humble sum of forty dollars per 
month. That leaves our young hero on the job tem- 
porarily. Stick in a few chapters of heart-burnings 
on the part of the brave buckaroo " 

" Oh, yes, no doubt ! " from Billy Louise, who was 
trying not to giggle. 

" Oh, he had 'em, far as that goes. Brave buckaroo 
had heart-burnings enough for a Laura Jean Libbey 
romance. All according to Hoyle. Young hero 
Say, Bill, what 's the matter with that gazabo, anyway ? 
Has n't he got good eyesight, or what ? Can't the 
chump see he 's overlooking a bet when " 

" Oh, you make me sick ! " Billy Louise slashed at 
a ripening branch of service berries with her quirt and 
scared Blue so that he lunged against the romancer. 
" You men seem to think the girl has nothing to say 
about it ! You think we just sit and smile and wait 
for somebody to snap his fingers, and we jump at him ! 
You " 

" Did n't I say there would be several chapters where 
the haughty beauty keeps our young hero running around 
in circles, and the brave buckaroo can't figure out 



THIS PAL BUSINESS 143 

whether he ought to buy a ring or more shells for his 
six-gun ? " 

" With the inference that she flops into his arms in 
the last chapter and hides her maidenly blushes against 
the pocket where he keeps his sack of Bull Durham 
and papers " 

" Oh, you Bill-the-Conk ! It would be the brave 
buckaroo in the last chapter then, would it ? " Ward 
leaned close, swift tenderness putting the teasing twin- 
kle to flight from his eyes. " Our young hero smokes 
a briar, Wilhemina-mine ! " 

" We-el don't skip ! " cried Billy Louise, backing 
away from him with more blushes than any girl could 
hope to hide behind a coat of tan. " There 's lots of 
chapters before the last. And you 've got to read them 
straight through and no fair skipping ! " 

" Wilhemina-mine ! " Ward repeated the newly in- 
vented appellation, which seemed to approach satisfac- 
torily close to the line of forbidden endearments. 

" Oh, for pity's sake ! I never knew you to act so." 
Billy Louise scowled unconvincingly at him from a safe 
distance. 

" I never was kissed before," blurted Ward fool- 
hardily, kicking Rattler closer. 

" Well, if that 's what ails you, I '11 see it does n't 
happen again," retorted Billy Louise squelchingly, and 
Ward's self-assurance was not great enough to lift him 
over the barrier of that rebuff. 

They came upon Charlie Fox sitting on his horse 
beside the crude mail-box, reading avidly a letter of 
many crisp, close-written pages. Billy Louise flashed 
Ward an I-told-you-so glance. 



144 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" Why, how do you do ? " Charlie came out of cloud- 
land with a start and turned to them cordially, while he 
hastily folded the letter. " Going down into the Cove 1 
That 's good. I was just up after the mail. How 
are things up your way, Warren ? " 

" Fine as silk." Ward's eyes swung briefly toward 
what he considered the chief bit of fineness. 

" That 's good. Trail 's a little narrow for three, 
is n't it ? I '11 ride ahead and open the gate." 

" They 've got a new gate down here," said Billy 
Louise trivially. " I forgot that important bit of 
news." 

" Well, it is important to us Covers," smiled Char- 
lie, glancing back at them. " No more bars to be left 
down accidentally. This gate shuts itself, in case 
someone forgets." 

" And you have n't lost any more cattle, have you ? " 
The question was a statement, after Billy Louise's 
habit. 

" Not out of the Cove, at any rate. I can't speak 
so positively as to the outside stock of course." 

" You 've missed some ? " Billy Louise never per- 
mitted a tone to slip past her without tagging it im- 
mediately with plain English. Charlie's tone had said 
something to which his words made no reference. 

" I don't like to say that, Miss Louise. Very likely 
they have stray drifted, I mean back toward their 
home ranch. Peter and I can't keep cases very closely, 
of course." 

Billy Louise shifted uneasily in the saddle and 
pulled her eyebrows together. " If you think you 've 
lost some cattle, for heaven's sake why don't you say 



THIS PAL BUSINESS 145 

so!" (Ward smiled to himself at her tone.) "If 
there 's anything I hate, it 's hinting and never com- 
ing right out with anything. Have you lost any ? " 

Charlie turned with a hand on the cantle and faced 
her with polite reproach. " Peter says we have," he 
admitted, with very evident reluctance. " I hardly 
think so myself. I 'd have to count them. I know, 
of course, how many we 've bought in the last year." 

" Well, Peter knows more about it than you do," 
Billy Louise told him bluntly. " If he has missed any, 
they 're probably gone." 

" I was in hopes you would be on my side, Miss 
Louise." Charlie smiled deprecatingly. " I 've argued 
with Aunt Martha and Peter until But I did n't 
know you were a confirmed pessimist as well ! " 

" You did n't neglect to put your brand on them, 
did you ? " asked Billy Louise cruelly. 

Charlie flushed under the sunburn. " Really, Miss 
Louise, you 've no mercy on a tenderfoot, have you ? " 
he protested. " No, they are all branded, really they 
are. Peter and Aunt Martha saw to that," he con- 
fessed naively. 

" It seems queer," said Billy Louise, thinking aloud. 
" Ward, there certainly is rustling going on around 
here; and no one seems to know a thing beyond the 
mere fact that they 're losing cattle. Seabeck has lost 
some " 

" Oh, are you sure ? " Charlie's eyes widened per- 
ceptibly. " I had n't heard that. By Jove ! It sort 
of makes a fellow feel shaky about going into cattle 
very strong, does n't it ? It it knocks off the profits 
like the very deuce, to keep losing one here and there." 



146 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" A fellow has to figure on a certain percentage of 
loss," said Ward. " This the new gate ? " 

" Yes." Charlie seemed relieved by the diversion. 
" Just merely a gate, as you see ; but we Covers are 
proud of every little improvement. Aunt Martha comes 
up here every day, I verily believe, just to look at it 
and admire it. The poor old soul never had any con- 
veniences that she could n't make herself, you know, 
and she thinks this is great stuff. I put this padlock 
on it so she can lock herself in, nights when I 'm away. 
She feels better with the gate locked. And then I Ve 
got a dog that 's as good as a company of soldiers him- 
self. If either of you happen down here when there 's 
no one about, you will have to introduce yourselves to 
Cerberus so named because he guards the gates 
not the gate to Hades, please remember. Surbus, Aunt 
Martha calls him, which is good Idahoese and seems 
to please him as well as any other. Just speak to him 
by name Surbus if you like and he will be all 
right, I think." He held open the gate for them to 
ride through and gave them a comradely look and 
smile as they passed. 

Ward took in the details of the heavy gate that 
barred the gorge. He did not know that he betrayed 
the fact even to the sharp eyes of Billy Louise, but 
he could not quite bring himself to the point of meet- 
ing Charlie Fox anywhere near half-way in his over- 
tures for friendship. 

" The weight is so heavy that the gate shuts and 
latches itself, you see," Charlie went on, mounting on 
the inside of the barrier and following cheerfully after 
them. " But that does n't satisfy Aunt Martha. She 



THIS PAL BUSINESS 147 

and Surbus make a special pilgrimage up here every 
night." 

" She must be pretty nervous." Ward could not 
quite see why such precautions were necessary in a 
country where no man locked his door against the 
world. 

" Well, she is, though you would n't suspect it, would 
you? When one thinks of the life she has lived, and 
how she pioneered in here when the country was straight 
wilderness, and all that. Of course, I did n't know 
her before Uncle Jason died do you think she has 
changed since, Miss Louise ? " 

" Lots," Billy Louise assured him briefly. She was 
wondering why Ward was so stiff and unnatural with 
Charlie Fox. 

" I think myself that the shock of losing him must 
have made the difference in her. There 's Surbus ; 
how 's that for a voice ? And he 's just as blood- 
thirsty as he sounds, too. I 'd hate to have him tackle 
me in the gorge, on a dark night. He's too savage, 
though it 's only with strangers, and we don't see 
many of them. He almost ate Peter up, when he first 
came. And he gave you quite a scare last spring, 
did n't he, Miss Louise ? " 

" He came within an ace of getting his head shot 
off," Billy Louise qualified laconically. " Marthy 
came out just in the nick of time. I absolutely refuse 
to be chewed up by any dog; and I don't care who 
he belongs to." 

" Same here, William," approved Ward. 

Charlie laughed. " I see Surbus is not going to be 
popular with the neighbors," he said easily. " I do 



148 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

feel very apologetic over him. But Martliy wanted me 
to get a dog, and so when a fellow offered me this 
one, I took him; and as Surbus happened to take a 
fancy to me, I did n't realize what a savage brute he 
is, till he tackled Peter and then Miss Louise." 

" Well, Miss Louise was perfectly able to defend 
herself, so you need n't feel apologetic about that," said 
Billy Louise a trifle sharply. She hated Surbus, and 
she was quite open in her hatred. " If he ever comes 
at me again, and nobody calls him off, I shall shoot 
him." It was not a threat, as she spoke it, but a plain 
statement of a fact. " You 'd better serve notice too, 
Ward. He 's a nasty beast, and he 'd just as. soon kill 
a person as not. He was going to jump for my throat. 
He was crouched, just ready to spring and I had 
my gun out when Marthy saw us and gave a yell 
fit to wake the dead. Surbus did n't jump, and I did n't 
shoot. That 's how close he came to being a dead 
dog." 

She glanced at Ward and then furtively at Charlie 
Fox. If expression meant anything, Surbus was yet 
in danger of paying for that assault. She caught Ward's 
truculent eye, smiled, and shook her head at him. 
" We 're pretty fair friends now," she said. " At 
least, we don't try to kill each other whenever we meet. 
' Armed neutrality ' fits our case fine." 

" I think I '11 volunteer under your flag," said Ward. 
" I '11 leave Cerberus alone as long as he leaves me and 
my friends alone. But I 'd advise him not to start 
anything." 

" That 's all Surbus or anyone else can ask. Come 
on, old fellow ! Pardon me," he added to his compan- 



THIS PAL BUSINESS 149 

ions and rode past them to meet the great, heavy- 
jowled dog. " Be still, Surbus. We 're all friends, 
here." 

The dog lifted a non-committal glance to Ward's 
face, growled deep in his chest, and dropped behind, 
nosing the tracks of Blue and Rattler as if he would 
identify them and fix them in his memory for future 
use. 

Ward had never seen the Cove in summer. He looked 
about him curiously, struck by the atmosphere of quiet 
plenty. Over the crude fence hung fruit-laden branches 
from the jungle within. There was a smell of ripening 
plums in the air, and the hum of bees. Somewhere 
in the orchard a wild canary was singing. If he could 
live down here, he thought, with Billy Louise and none 
other near, he would ask no odds of the world or of 
heaven. He glanced at Charlie Fox enviously. Well, 
he had a fairly well-sheltered place of his own, up 
there in the hills. He could set out fruit and plants 
and things and have a little Eden of his own; though 
of course it could n't be like this place, sheltered as 
it was from harsh winds by that high rock wall, and 
soaking in sunshine all day long. Still, he could 
fix his place up a lot, with a little time and thought 
and a good deal of hard work. 

He looked at Billy Louise and saw how the beauty 
of the place appealed to her, and right there he de- 
cided to study horticulture so that he could raise plums 
and apples and hollyhocks and things. 



CHAPTER XI 

WAS IT THE DOG? 

* ' r I lHAT old dame down there thinks a lot of you, 
JL William." Ward had closed the gate and was 
preparing to remount. 

" Well, is there any reason why she should n't ? " 
The tone of Billj Louise was not far from petulant. 

" Not a reason. What 'a molla, Bill ? " 

" Nothing that I know of." Billy Louise lifted 
her eyes to the rock cabbages on the cliff above them 
and tried to speak convincingly. 

" Yes, there is. Something 's gone wrong. Can't 
you tell a pal, Wilhemina ? " 

There was no resisting that tone. Billj Louise looked 
at him, and though she still frowned, her eyes light- 
ened a little. 

" No, I can't tell a pal or anybody else. I don't 
know. Something 's different, down there. I don't 
know what it is, and I don't like it." She thought a 
minute and then smiled with that little twist of the 
lips Ward liked so much. " Maybe it 's the dog," she 
guessed. " I never see his ugly mug that I don't feel 
like taking a shot at him. I like dogs, too, as a gen- 
eral thing. He 's got a wicked heart ! I know he has. 
He 'd like nothing better than to take a chunk out 
of me." 

" I '11 go back and kill him ; shall I, Bill Loo ? " 



WAS IT THE DOG? 151 

" No. Some day maybe I '11 get a chance at him my- 
self. I Ve warned Marthy, so " 

" Are you dead sure it 's the dog ? " Ward looked 
at her with that keenness of glance which was hard 
to meet if one wanted to keep a secret from him. 

" Why? " Billj Louise's tone did not invite further 
questioning. 

" Oh, nothing ! I just wondered." 

" You don't like Charlie ; anybody can see that." 

" Yes ? Foxy 's a real nice young man." 

" But you don't like him. You never do like any- 
body " 

" No ? " Ward's smile dared her to persist in the 
accusation. " In that case I 've no business to be fool- 
ing around here when there 's work to be done. That 
Cove down there has roused a heap of brand-new wants 
in me, Wilhemma. Gotta have an orchard up on Mill 
Creek, lady-fair. Gotta have a flower garden and things 
that climb all over the house and smell nice. Gotta 
have four times as much meadow as I 've got now, and 
a house full of books and pictures and things, and more 
cattle and horses, and a yellow canary in a yellow cage 
singing his head off out on the porch. Gotta work 
like one son-of-a-gun, Wilhemina, to get all those things 
and get 'em quick, so I can stand some show of get- 
ting what I really do want." 

" Well, am I keeping you ? " Billy Louise was cer- 
tainly in a villainous mood. 

" You are," Ward affirmed quite calmly. " Only for 
you, I 'd be hustling like the mischief right this min- 
ute along the get-rich trail. Say, Bill, I don't believe 
it 's the dog! " He looked at her with the smile hiding 



152 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

just behind his lips and his eyes. And behind the 
smile, if one's insight were keen enough to see it, 
was a troubled anxiety. He shifted the pail of cur- 
rants to the other arm and spoke again : 

" What is it, Wilhemina ? Something 's bothering 
you. Can't you tell a fellow what it is ? " 

" To, I can't." Billy Louise spoke crossly. " I 've 
got a headache. I 've been riding ever since this morn- 
ing, and I should think that 's reason enough. I wish 
to goodness you 'd let me alone. Go on back to work, 
if you 're so crazy about working ; I 'm sure I don't want 
to hinder you in any of your get-rich-quick schemes ! " 
She shut her teeth together with a click, jerked Blue 
angrily into the trail when he had merely stepped 
out of it to avoid a rock, and managed to make him 
as conscious of her mood as was Ward. 

Ward eyed her unobtrusively with his face set 
straight ahead. He glanced down at the pail of cur- 
rants, which was heavy, and at the trail, which was 
long and lonely. He twisted his lips in brief sar- 
casm for he had a temper of his own and rode 
on with his neck set very stiff and his eyes a trifle 
harder than they had ever been before when Billy Louise 
rode alongside. He did not turn off at the ford and 
Billy Louise betrayed by a quick glance at him that 
she had half expected him to desert her there but 
crossed it beside her and rode on up the hill. 

He had made up his mind that he would not speak 
to her again until she wiped out, by apology or a 
change of manner, that last offensive remark of hers. 
He hoped she realized that he was only going with 
her to carry the currants, and he hoped she realized 



WAS IT THE DOG? 153 

also that, if she had been any other person who had 
spoken to him like that, he would have dumped the cur- 
rants on the ground and ridden off and left her to her 
own devices. 

He did not once speak to Billy Louise on the way 
to the Wolverine; but his silence changed gradually 
from stubbornness to pure abstraction, as they rode 
leisurely along the dusty trail with the sunset glow- 
ing before them. He almost forgot the actual pres- 
ence of Billy Louise, and he did actually forget her 
mood. He was planning just how and where he should 
plant his orchard, and he was mentally building an 
addition to the cabin and screening a porch wide enough 
to hang a hammock inside, and he was seeing Billy 
Louise luxuriously swinging in that hammock while 
he sat close, and smoked and teased and gloried in 
his possession of her companionship. 

His thoughts shuttled to his little mine, though he 
seldom dignified it by that title. He speculated upon 
the amount of gold he might yet hope to wash out 
of that gravel streak, though he had held himself sternly 
back from such mental indulgence all the spring. He 
felt that he was going to need every grain of gold he 
could glean. He wanted his wife he glowed at the 
mere thinking of that name to have the nicest little 
home in the country. He decided that it would be 
pleasanter than the Cove, all things considered ; he had 
a fine view of the rugged hills from his cabin, and he 
imagined the Cove must be pretty hot during the days, 
with that high rock wall shutting off the wind and 
reflecting the sun. His own place was sheltered, but 



154 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

still it was not set down in the bottom of a well. She 
had liked it. She had said . . . 

They rode over the crest of the bluff and down the 
steep trail into the Wolverine. However cloudy the 
atmosphere between the two, the ride had seemed short 
so short that Ward felt the jar of surprise when 
he looked down and saw the cabin below them. He 
glanced at Billy Louise, guessed from her somber face 
that the villainous mood still held her, and sighed a 
little. He was not deeply concerned by her mood. He 
understood her too well to descend into any slough 
of despondence because she was, cross. Then he re- 
membered the reason she had given the reason he had 
not believed at the time. They were down by the gate, 
then. 

" Head still ache, William ? " he asked, in the tone 
which he could make a fair substitute for a caress. 

" Yes," said Billy Louise, and did not look at him. 

Ward was inwardly skeptical, but he did not tell 
her so. He swung off his horse, set down the pail 
of currants, and took Blue by the bridle. 

" You go on in. I '11 unsaddle," he commanded her 
quietly. And Billy Louise, after a perceptible hesita- 
tion, obeyed him without looking at him or speaking 
a word. 

If Ward resented her manner, which was unrea- 
sonably uppish, he could not have chosen a more ef- 
fective revenge. He talked with Mrs. MacDonald all 
through supper and paid no attention to Billy Louise. 
After supper he spied a fairly fresh Boise paper, and 
underneath that lay the Butte Miner. That discovery 
settled the evening, so far as he was concerned. If 



WAS IT THE DOG? 155 

he and Billy Louise had been on the best of terms, it 
is doubtful if she could have dragged his attention 
from those papers. 

Several times Billy Louise looked at him as though 
she meditated going over and snatching them away 
from him, but she resisted the temptation and con- 
tinued to behave as a nice young woman should behave 
toward a guest. She left him sitting inside by the 
lamp, which her mother had lighted for his especial 
convenience, and went out and sat on the doorstep and 
stared at the dusky line of hills and at the Big Dip- 
per. She was trying to think out the tangle of tiny, 
threadlike mysteries that had enmeshed her thoughts 
and tightened her nerves until she could not speak a 
decent word to anyone. 

She felt that the lives of those around her were weav- 
ing puzzle-patterns, and that she must guess the puz- 
zles. And she felt as though part of the patterns had 
been left out, so that there were ragged points thrust- 
ing themselves upon her notice points that did not 
point to anything. 

She sat with her elbows on her knees and her chin 
in her cupped palms, and scowled at the Big Dipper 
as if it held the answer away up there beyond her 
reach. Where did Ward get the money to do all the 
things he had done, this spring and sumrrter? If he 
expected her to believe that wolf story ! 

What became of the cattle that had disappeared, by 
twos and threes and sometimes more, in the last few 
months? Was there a gang of thieves operating in 
the country, and where did they stay ? 

Why had Ward hinted that she did not like Charlie 



156 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Fox, and why did n't he himself like Charlie ? Why 
had she felt that weight of depression creep over her 
when they were leaving the Cove ? Why ? Why ? 

Billy Louise tried to bring her cold, common sense 
to the front. She had found it a most effective remedy 
for most moods. Now it assured her impatiently that 
every question save one had heen born in her own 
super-sensitive self. That one definite question was 
the first one she had tried to answer. It kept asking 
itself, over and over, until in desperation Billy Louise 
went to bed and tried to forget it in sleep. 

Somewhere about midnight she had heard the 
clock strike eleven a long while ago she scared her 
mother by sitting up suddenly in bed and exclaiming 
relievedly : " Oh, I know ; it 's some new poison ! He 
poisons them ! " 

" Wake up ! For the land's sake, what are you 
dreaming about ? " Her mother shook her agitatedly 
by the arm. " Billy Louise ! W T ake up ! " 

" All right, rnommie." Billy Louise lay down and 
snuggled the light blanket over her shoulders. She 
had been awake and thinking, thinking till she thought 
she never could stop, but she did not tell mommie that. 
She went to sleep and dreamed about poisoned wolves 
till it is a wonder she did not have a real nightmare. 
The question was answered, and for the time being 
the answer satisfied her. 

Ward was surely an unusual type of young man. 
He did not seem to remember, the next morning, that 
there had been any outbreak of bottled emotions on 
his part the day before, or any ill-temper on the part 
of Billy Louise, or anything at all out of the ordinary. 



WAS' IT THE DOG? 157 

Billy Louise had prepared herself to apologize 
in some roundabout manner which would effect a recon- 
ciliation without hurting her pride too much and she 
was rather chagrined to discover that Ward seemed 
neither to expect or to want any apology. 

" Sorry I gotta go, William," he volunteered whim- 
sically soon after breakfast. " But I gotta dig. Say, 
Wilhemina, if I stay away long enough, will you come 
after me again ? " 

" A wise man," said Billy Louise evasively, " may 
do a foolish thing once, but only a fool does it twice." 

" I don't believe it 's the dog." Ward shook his head 
at her in mock meditation. " It would n't last over- 
night, if it was just the dog." He looked at her with 
the hidden smile. " Are you sure " 

" I 'm sure you know how to pester a person ! " The 
lips of Billy Louise twisted humorously. " Lots of 
things bother me, and you ought to help me out in- 
stead of making it worse." She walked beside him 
down to the corral where Rattler was waiting, sad- 
dled and bridled for the homeward journey. 

" Well, tell a fellow what they are. Of course, 
if it 's the dog " 

" Ward Warren, you 're awful ! It is n't the dog. 
Well, it is, but there are heaps of other things I want 
to know, that I don't know. And you don't seem to 
care about any single one of them." 

Ward leaned up against the fence and tilted his hat 
to shade his eyes from the sun. " Name a few of them, 
William Louisa. ~Not even a brave young buckaroo 
can be expected to mind-read a girl. If he could " 

" Well, is it poison you use ? " Billy Louise thought 



158 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

it best to change Ward's trend of thought immediately. 
" Last night it just came to me all at once that you 
must have found some poison besides strychnine ' : 

" Eh ? Oh, I see ! " He managed a rather provoking 
slur on the last word. " No, William/* His eyes twin- 
kled at her. " It is n't poison. What 's the other thing 
you want to know ? " 

Billy Louise frowned, hesitated, and, accepting the 
rebuff, went on to the next question: 

" What went with Seabeck's cattle, and Marthy and 
Charlie's, and all the others that have disappeared? 
You don't seem to care at all that there seems to be 
rustling going on around here." 

Ward gave her a quick look. His tone changed a 
bit: 

" I don't know that there is any. I never yet lived 
in a cow-country where there was n't more or less talk 
of rustling. You don't want to take gossip like that 
too seriously. Anything more ? " 

Billy Louise glanced at him surreptitiously and 
looked away again. Then she tried to go on as casually 
as she had begun. 

" Well, there 's something about the Cove. I don't 
believe Marthy 's happy. I could n't quite get hold of 
the thing yesterday that gave me the blues but it 's 
Marthy. She 's grieving, or something. She 's dif- 
ferent. She 's changed more since last winter than 
she 's changed since I can remember. You noticed 
something at least you spoke about her coming up 
the gorge " 

" I said she thinks a lot of you, Wilhemina." Ward's 
tone and manner were natural again, " I noticed her 



WAS IT THE DOG? 159 

looking at you when you did n't know it. She thinks 
a heap of you, I should say, and she 's worrying about 
something. Maybe she 'd rather have you in the Cove 
than Miss Gertrude M. Shannon. Don't you reckon 
an old lady that has had her own way all her life kind 
of dreads the advent of a brand-new bride in her 
domain ? " 

" Why, of course ! Poor old thing ! I never thought 
of that. And here you hit the nail on the head just 
with a chance thought. That shows what it means to 
be a brave young buckaroo, with heaps and piles "of 
brains ! " She laughed at him, but behind her ban- 
tering was a new respect for Ward's astuteness. " Go 
on. Tell me why you don't like Charlie Fox, or why 
you refuse to admit how nice and kind he is and " 

" But I don't refuse " 

" Well, I put it stupidly, of course, but you know 
what I mean. Tell me your candid opinion of him." 

" I have n't any." Ward smoked imperturbably for 
a minute, so that Billy Louise began to think he would 
not tell her what she wanted to know. Ward could 
be absolutely, maddeningly dumb on some subjects, as 
she had reason to know. But he continued, quite 
frankly for him: 

" Has it ever struck you, William Jane, that after 
all Foxy is not sacrificing such a hell of a lot ? " He 
bit his lip because of the word he had let slip, but since 
Billy Louise took no notice^ he went on : " He 's got a 
pretty good thing, down there, if you stop to think. The 
old lady won't live always, and she 's managed to build 
up a pretty fine ranch. It stands Foxy in hand to 
be good to her, don't you think ? He '11 have a pretty 



ISO RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

fine stake out of it. Far as I know, he 's all right. I 
merely fail to see where he 's got a right to wear any 
halo on his manly brow. He 's got a good hand in the 
game, and he 's playing it a heap better than lots 
of men would. Dot 's all, Wilhemina." He turned 
to her as if he would dismiss the subject. " Don't run 
off with the notion that 1 'm out after the heart's blood 
of our young hee-ro. I like him all right far as he 
goes. I like him a heap better," he owned frankly, 
" since I glommed him devouring that letter from Miss 
Gertrude M. Shannon. 

" Don't you want to ride a ways with me ? " His 
eyes made love while he waited for her to speak. 
"Don't?" (When she shook her head.) "You're 
a pretty mean young person sometimes, are n't you ? 
Wha 's molla ? Did I give you more mood than I wiped 
off the slate ? " 

" I don't know. You say a sentence or two, and it 's 
like slashing a knife into a curtain. You show all 
kinds of things that were nicely covered before." Billy 
Louise spoke gloomily. " I '11 see Marthy as a poor 
old lady waiting to be saddled with a boss, from now 
on. And Charlie Fox just simply working for his own 
interests and " 

"Now, William!" 

" Oh, I can see it myself, now." 

" Well, what if he is ? We 're all of us working for 
our own interests, are n't we ? " He saw the gloom 
still deep in her eyes and flung out both hands impa- 
tiently. " All right, all right ! I '11 plead the cause 
of our young hee-ro, then. What would old Marthy 
do without him ? He 's made her more comfortable 



WAS IT THE DOG? 161 

than she ever was in her life, probably. I noticed 
a big difference in the cabin, yesterday. And he 's do- 
ing the work, and taking the responsibility, and making 
the ranch more valuable even put a wire on the gate, 
that rings a bell at the house, so she '11 know when com- 
pany 's coming, and can get the kitchen swept. He 's 
done a lot " 

" For himself ! " In her disillusionment Billy Louise 
went too far the other way. " And the cabin is more 
comfortable for that girl when he brings her there to 
run over Marthy ! " 

" Well, what of it ? You don't expect him to put 
in his time for nothing, do you ? In the last analysis 
we 're all self-centered brutes, Wilhemina. We 're think- 
ing once for the other fellow and twice for ourselves, 
always. I 'm working and scheming day and night 
to get a stake so I can have what means happiness 
to me. Marthy 's letting Foxy have full swing in the 
Cove, because that gives her an easier life than she 's 
ever had. If she did n't want him there, she 'd mighty 
quick shoo him up the gorge, or I don't know the old 
lady. We 're all selfish." 

" I think it 's a horrid world ! " rebelled the youth- 
ful ideals of Billy Louise. " I wish you would n't say 
you 're just thinking of yourself " 

" I 'm human," he pointed out. " I want my hap- 
piness. So do you, for that matter. We all want to 
get all we can out of life." 

" And at the other fellow's expense ! " 

" Oh, not necessarily. Some of us want the other 
fellow to be just as happy as we are." His look pointed 
the meaning for him. 



162 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" I don't care ; I think it 's mean of Charlie Fox to 
bring " 

" May he not. The chances are the young lady will 
take to housework like a bear-cuh to a syrup keg, and 
old Marthy will potter around with her flowers and be 
perfectly happy with the two of them. Cheer up, Bill 
Loo ! Lemme have a smile, anyway, before I go. And 
I wish," he added quizzically, " you 'd spare me some 
of that sympathy you 've got going to waste. I 'm a 
poor lonesome devil working away to get a stake, and 
you know why. I don't have nobody to give me a kind 
word, and I don't have no fun nor nothing, nohow. 
Come on and ride a mile or two ! " 

" I have to help mommie," said Billy Louise, which 
was not true. 

" Well, if you won't, darn it, don't ! " Ward reached 
down, caught her hand, and squeezed it, taking a chance 
on being seen. " Gotta go, Wilhemina-mine. Adios. I 
won't stay away so long next time." He turned away 
to his horse, stuck his foot in the stirrup, and went 
up into the saddle without any apparent effort. Then 
he swung Rattler close to where she stood beside the 
gate. 

" Sure you want to be just pals, Wilhemina-mine ? " 
he asked, bending close to her. 

" Of course I 'm sure," said Billy Louise quickly 
a. shade too quickly. 

Ward looked at her intently and shrugged his shoul- 
ders. " All right," he said, in the tone which made 
plain his opinion of her decision. " You 're the 
doctor." 

Billy Louise watched him up the hill and out of sight 



WAS IT THE DOG? 163 

over the top. When he was gone, she caught Blue and 
saddled him; then, with her gun buckled around her 
hips and her rope coiled beside the saddle-fork, she rode 
dismally up the canyon. 



CHAPTER XH 

THE LITTLE DEVILS OF DOUBT 

WOLVERINE canyon, with the sun shining down 
aslant into its depths, was a picturesque gash 
in the hills, wild enough in all conscience, but to the 
normal person not in the least degree gloomy. The jut- 
ting crags were sunlit and warm. The cherry thickets 
whispered in a light breeze and sheltered birds that 
sang in perfect content. The service berries were rip- 
ening and hung heavy-laden branches down over the 
trail to tempt a rider into loitering. The creek leaped 
over rocks, slid thin blades of swift current between 
the higher bowlders, and crept stealthily down into shady 
pools, where speckled trout lay motionless except for the 
gently-moving tail and fins that held them stationary in 
some deeper shadow. Not a gloomy place, surely, when 
the peace of a sunny morning laid its spell upon the 
land. 

Billy Louise, however, did not respond to the can- 
yon's enticements. She brooded over her own discour- 
agements and the tantalizing little puzzles which some- 
how would not lend themselves to any convincing solu- 
tion. She was in that condition of nervous depression 
where she saw her finest cows dead of bloat in the alfalfa 
meadows and how would she pay that machinery note, 
then? She saw John Pringle calling unexpectedly and 
insistently for his " time " and where would she find 



LITTLE DEVILS OF DOUBT 165 

another man whom she could trust out of her sight? 
John Pringle was slow, and he was stupid and growled 
at poor Phoabe till Billy Louise wanted to shake him, 
but he was " steady," and that one virtue covers many 
a man's faults and keeps him drawing wages regularly. 

Her mother had been more and more inclined to 
worry as the hot weather came on; lately her anxiety 
over small things had rather gotten upon the nerves of 
Billy Louise. She felt ill-used and down-hearted and 
as if nothing mattered much, anyway. She passed her 
cave with a mere glance and scowl for the memories 
of golden days in her lonely childhood that clung around 
it. She passed Minervy's cave, and her lips quivered 
with self-pity because that childhood was gone, and 
she must not waste time or energy upon romantic " pre- 
tends," but must measure haystacks and allow so much 
for " settling," and then add and multiply and divide 
all over two sheets of tablet paper to find out how much 
hay she had to winter the stock on. She must hold 
herself rigidly to facts, and tend fences and watch irri- 
gating ditches, and pay interest on notes three or four 
years old, and ride the hills and work her way through 
rocky canyons, keeping watch over the cattle that meant 
so much. She had meant to talk over things with Ward 
and ask his advice about certain details that required 
experienced judgment. But Ward had precipitated her 
thoughts into strange channels and so had unconsciously 
thwarted her counsel-seeking intentions. She had 
wanted to talk things over with Marthy, and Marthy had 
also unconsciously prevented her doing so and had filled 
Billy Louise with uneasiness and doubt which in no 
way concerned herself. 



166 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

These doubt* persisted, arid so did the tantalizing 
little puzzles. They weaned Billy Louise's thoughts 
from her own ranch worries and nagged at her with 
the persistence of a swarm of buffalo gnats. 

" Well, if he does n't use poison, for goodness' sake, 
what does he use ? " she asked indignantly aloud, after 
a period of deep thought. " I don't see why he wants 
to be so terribly secretive. He might be human enough 
to tell a person what he means. I 'm sure I 'd tell him, 
all right. I don't believe it 's wolves at all. I don't 
see how and still I don't believe Ward would 
really lie to me." 

She was in this particularly dissatisfied mood when 
she rode out of the canyon at its upper end, where 
the hills folded softly down into grassy valleys where 
her cattle loved best to graze. Since the grass had 
started in the spring, she had kept her little herd up 
here among the lower hills; and by riding along the 
higher ridges every day or so and turning back a wan- 
dering animal now and then, she had held them in a 
comparatively small area, where they would be easily 
gathered in the fall. A few head of Seabeck's stock 
had wandered in amongst hers, and some of Marthy's. 
And there was a big, roan steer that bore the brand 
of Johnson, orer on Snake River. Billy Louise knew 
them all, a a housewife knows her flock of chickens, 
and if she missed seeing certain leaders in the scat- 
tered groups, she rode until she found them. Two old 
cows and one big, red steer that seemed always to have 
a following wore bells that tinkled pleasant little sounds 
in the alder thickets along the creek, as she passed by. 

She rode up the long ridge which gave her a wide 



LITTLE DEVILS OF DOUBT 167 

view of the surrounding hills and stopped Blue, while 
ghe stared moodily at the familiar, shadow-splotched 
expanse of high-piled ridges, with deep green valleys 
and deeper-hued canyons between. She loved them, 
every one; but to-day they failed to steep her senses in 
that deep content with life which only the great out- 
doors can give to one who has learned how satisfying 
is the draught and how soothing. 

Far over to the eastward a black dot moved up a 
green slope and slid out of sight beyond. That might 
be Ward, taking a short-cut across the hill to his claim 
beyond the pine-dotted ridge that looked purple in the 
distance. Billy Louise sighed with a vague disquiet 
and turned to look away to the north, where the jum- 
ble of high hills grew more rugged, with the valleys 
narrower and deeper. 

Here came two other dots, larger and more clearly 
defined as horsemen. From mere objects that stood 
higher than any animal and moved with a purposeful 
directness, they presently became men who rode with 
the easy swing of habit which has become a second 
nature. They must have seen her sitting still upon 
her horse in the midst of that high, sunny plateau, for 
they turned and rode up the slope toward her. 

Billy Louise waited, too depressed to wonder greatly 
who they were. Seabeck riders, probably; and so they 
proved. At least one of them was a Seabeck man 
Floyd Carson, who had talked with her at her own gate 
and had told her of the suspected cattlerstealing. The 
other man was a stranger whom Floyd introduced as 
Mr. Birken. 

They had been " prowling around," according to 



168 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Floyd, trying to see what they could see. Floyd was 
one of these round-faced, round-eyed, young fellows 
who does not believe much in secrecy and therefore talks 
freely whenever and wherever he dares. He said that 
Seaheck had turned them loose to keep cases and see 
if they couldn't pick up the trail of these rustlers who 
were trying to get rich off a running iron and a long 
rope. (If you are of the West, you know what that 
means; and if you are not, you ought to guess that 
it means stealing cattle and let it go at that.) It was 
not until he had talked for ten minutes or so that 
Billy Louise became more than mildly interested in 
the conversation. 

" Say, Miss MacDonald," Floyd asked, by way of 
beginning a new paragraph, " how about that fellow 
over on Mill Creek? He worked for you folks a year 
or so ago, did n't he ? What does he do ? " 

" He has a ranch," said Billy Louise with careful 
calm. " He 's been working on it this summer, I be- 
lieve." 

" Uh-huh we were over there this morning. Them 
Y6 cattle up above his place are his, I reckon ? " 

" Yes," said Billy Louise. " He 's been putting his 
wages into cattle for a year or so. He worked for 
Junkins last winter. Why ? " 

" Oh, nothing, I guess ! Only he 's the only stranger 
in the country, and his prosperity ain't accounted 
for " 

"Oh, but it is!" laughed Billy Louise. "I only 
wish I had half as clear a ticket. When he is n't work- 
ing out, he 's wolfing ; and every dollar he gets hold of he 
puts into that ranch. We 've known him a long time. 



LITTLE DEVILS OF DOUBT 169 

He does n't blow his money, you see, like most fel- 
lows do." 

Floyd found occasion to have a slight argument with 
his horse, just then. He happened to be one of the 
" most " fellows, and the occasion of his last " blow- 
out " was fresh in his mind. 

" Well, of course, if you know he 's all straight, 
that settles it. But it sure seems queer " 

" That fellow is straight as a string. Don't you sup- 
pose it 's some gang over on the river, Floyd ? I 'd lopk 
around over there, I believe, and try to get a line on 
the unaccountables. There 's a lot of new settlers come 
in, just in the last year or two, and there might be 
some tough ones scattered through the bunch. Better 
see if there has been any cattle shipped or driven through 
that way, don't you think ? " 

" We can try," Floyd assented without eagerness. 
" But as near as we can figure, it 's too much of a 
drib-drab proposition for that. A cow and calf here 
and there, and so on. We got wind of it first when 
we went out to bring in a gentle cow that the deacon 
wanted on the ranch. We knew where she was, only 
she was n't there when we went after her. We hunted 
the hills for a week and couldn't find a sign of her 
or her calf. And she had stuck down in the creek bot- 
tom all the spring, so it looked kinda funny." He 
twisted in the saddle and looked back at the pine- 
clotted ridge. 

" There 's a Y6 calf up there that 's a dead ringer for 
the one we 've been hunting," he observed. " But it 's 
running with a cow that carries Junkins' old brand, 
so " He looked apologetically into the calm eyes of 



170 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Billy Louise. " Of course, I don't mean to say there 's 
anything wrong up there," he hastily assured her. " But 
that 's the reason I thought I 'd ask you about that 
fellow." 

" Oh, it 's perfectly right to make sure of every- 
body," smiled Billy Louise. " I 'd do the same thing 
myself. But you '11 find everything 's all straight up 
there. We know all about him, and how and where he 
got his few head of stock, and everything. But of 
course you could ask Junkins, if you have any 
doubt " 

" Oh, we '11 take your word for it. I just wanted 
to know ; he 's a stranger to our outfit. I 've seen him 
a few times ; what 's his name ? Us boys call him 
Noisy. It 's like pulling a wisdom tooth to get any 
kinda talk out of him." 

" He is awful quiet," assented Billy Louise carelessly. 
" But he 's real steady to work." 

" Them quiet fellows generally are," put in Mr. Bir- 
ken. " You run stock in here too, do you, Miss Mac- 
Donald?" 

" The big Ds," answered Billy Louise and smiled 
faintly. " I 've been range-herding them back here in 
these foothills this summer. Do you want to' look 
through the bunch ? " 

Mr. Birkin blushed. "Oh, no, not at all! I was 
wondering if you had lost any." 

" Nobody would rustle cattle from a lady, I hope ? 
At any rate, I have n't missed any yet. The folks down 
in the Cove have, though." 

" Yes, I heard they had. That breed rode over 
to see if he could get a line on them. It 's hard luck ; 



LITTLE DEVILS OF DOUBT 171 

that Charlie Fox seems a fine, hard-working boy, don't 
you think ? " 

" Yes-s," said Billy Louise shyly, " he seems real 
nice." She looked away and bit her lip self-consciously 
as she spoke. 

The two men swallowed the bait like a hungry fish. 
They glanced at each other and winked knowingly. 
Billy Louise saw them from the tail of her downcast eye, 
and permitted herself a little sigh of relief. They 
would be the more ready now to accept at its face value 
her statement concerning Ward, unless they credited - 
her with the feat of being in love with the two men 
at the same time. 

" Well, I 'm sorry Charlie Fox has been tapped off, 
too. He 's a mighty fine chap," declared Floyd with 
transparent heartiness, his round eyes dwelling curi- 
ously upon the face of Billy Louise. 

" Yes, I must be going," said that young woman 
self-consciously. " I 've quite a circle to ride yet. I 
hope you locate the rustlers, and if there 's anything 
I can do if I see or hear anything that seems to be 
a clew I '11 let you know right away. I 've been 
keeping my eyes open for some trace of them, and 
so has Char Mr. Fox." Then she blushed and told 
them good-by very hastily and loped off up the ridge. 

" Bark up that tree for awhile, you two ! " she said, 
with a twist of her lips, when she was well away from 
them. " You you darned idiots ! To go prowling 
around Ward's place, just as if Ward '11 take a shot 
at them if he catches them nosing through his stock ! " 
She scowled at a big D cow that thrust her head out of 
an alder thicket and sent Blue in after her. Frowning, 



172 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

she watched the animal go lumbering down the hill 
toward the Wolverine. " Just because he 's a stranger 
and does n't mix with people, and minds his own busi- 
ness and is trying to get a start, they 're suspicious 
as if a man has no right to Well, I think I man- 
aged to head them off, anyway." 

Her satisfaction lasted while she rode to the next 
ridge. Then the little devils of doubt came a-swarming 
and a-whispering. She had said she knew all about 
Ward; well, she did, to a greater extent than others 
knew. But she wondered if she did not know too 
much, or if she knew enough. There were some 
things 

She turned, upon the crest of the ridge, and looked 
away toward the pine-dotted height locally known as 
the Big Hill, beyond which Ward's claim lay snug- 
gled out of sight in its little valley. " I 've a good mind 
to ride over there right now, and make him tell me,' 7 
she said to herself. She stopped Blue and sat there 
undecided, while the wind lifted a lock of hair and 
flipped it across her cheek. " If he cares like he says 
he cares he '11 tell me," she 'murmured. " I don't 
believe it 's wolves. And of course it is n't what 
those fellows seemed to think. But - where did he 
get the money for all that ? " She sighed distressfully. 
" I hate to ask him ; he 'd think I did n't trust him, 
and I do. I do trust him ! " There was the little head- 
devil of doubt, and she fought him fiercely. "I do ! 
I do ! " She thrust the declaration of faith like a sword 
through the doubt-devil that clung and whispered. 
" Dear Ward ! I do trust you ! " She blinked back tears 
and bit her lips to stop their quivering. " But, darn 



LITTLE DEVILS OF DOUBT 173 

it, I don't see why you did n't tell me ! " There it was : 
a perfectly human, woman-resentment toward a nagging 
mystery. 

She headed Blue down the slope and as straight 
for the Big Hill as she could go. She would go and 
make Ward tell her what he had been doing; not that 
she had any doubt herself that it was perfectly all -right, 
whatever it was, but she felt that she had a right to 
demand facts, so that she could feel more sure of her 
ground. And there would be more questions; Billy 
Louise was bright enough to see thus far into the 
future. Unless the rustlers were caught, there would 
be questions asked about this silent stranger who kept 
his trail apart from his fellows and whose prosperity 
was out of proportion with his opportunities. Why, 
even Billy Louise herself had been curious over that 
prosperity, without being in the slightest degree suspi- 
cious. Other people had not her faith in him; and 
they were not blind. They would wonder 

There was no trail that way, and the ridges were 
steep and the canyons circuitous. But Blue was a good 
horse, with plenty of stamina and much experience. 
He carried his lady safely, and he carried her willingly. 
Even her impatience could find no fault with the man- 
ner in which he climbed steep pitches, slid down slopes 
as steep, jumped narrow washouts, and picked his way 
through thickets of quaking aspens or over wide 
stretches of shale rock and lava beds. He was wet to 
his ears when finally he shuffled into WarcL's trail up 
the creek bottom; but he breathed evenly, and he car- 
ried his head high and perked his ears knowingly for- 
ward when the corral and havstack came into view 



174 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

around a sharp bend. He splashed both front feet into 
the creek just before the cabin and stopped to drink 
while Billy Louise stared at the silent place. 

By the tracks along the creek trail she knew that 
Ward had come home, and she urged Blue across the 
ford and up the bank to the cabin. She slid off and 
went in boldly to hide her inward embarrassment and 
she found nothing but emptiness there. 

Billy Louise did not take long to investigate. The 
coffee-pot was still warm on the stove when she laid 
her palm against it, and she immediately poured herself 
a cup of coffee. A plate and a cup on the table indi- 
cated that Ward had eaten a hurried meal and had not 
taken time to clear away the litter. Billy Louise ate 
what was left, and mechanically she washed the dishes 
and made everything neat before she went down to look 
for Rattler. She had thought that Ward was out some- 
where about the place and would return very soon, 
probably. Blue she had left standing in plain sight 
before the cabin, so that Ward would see him and know 
she was there a fact which she regretted. 

While she was washing dishes and sweeping, she had 
been trying to think of some excuse for her presence 
there. It was going to be awkward, her coming there 
on his heels, one might say. She remembered for the 
first time her statement that she had to help mommie and 
so could not take the time to ride even a mile with him ! 
Being a young person whose chief amusement had al- 
ways been her " pretends," she began unconsciously 
building an imaginary conversation between them, like 
this: 

Ward would come out of the stable or somewhere 



LITTLE DEVILS OF DOUBT 175 

see Blue and hurry up to the house. Billy Louise 
would be standing with her back to him, putting the 
dishes into neat little piles in the cupboard perhaps; 
anyway, doing something like that. Ward would stop 
in the doorway and say well, there were several pos- 
sible greetings, but Billy Louise chose his " 'Lo, Bill ! " 
as being the most probable. And then he would" come 
up and take her in his arms. (Oh, she was human, 
and she was a woman, and she was twenty. And Ward 
had established a precedent, remember, and Billy Louise 
had not objected to any great extent.) And and 
(I 'm going to tell on Billy Louise. She wiped a knife 
for at least fire minutes without knowing what she was 
doing, and she stared at a sunny spot on the floor where 
a sunbeam came in through a crack in the wall, and she 
smiled absently, and her cheeks were quite a bit redder 
than usual.) 

" I did n't expect to see you here, Wilhemina-mine." 
" Oh, I was just riding around, and I came over to 
see how you dig dollars out of wolf-dens. You said 
you 'd show me." 

The trouble with the conversation began right there. 
Ward would be sure to remind her of the condition he 
had made, to tell her how he dug dollars out of wolf- 
dens when she was through with wanting to be just 
friends. That put it up to Billy Louise to say she 
would be engaged and marry him ; and Billy Louise 
was not ready to say that or be that Her woman- 
soul hung back from that decisive point She would 
not shut the door upon her freedom and her girlish 
dreams and her ideals and all those evanescent bub- 
bles which we try to carry with us into maturity. Billy 



176 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Louise did not put it that way, of course. She only 
reiterated again and again : " I like you, but I don't 
want to marry anybody. I don't want to be engaged." 

Well, that would probably settle Ward's telling her 
about digging dollars out of wolf-dens or anything else. 
He had a wide streak of stubbornness; no one could 
see the set of his chin when he was in a certain mood 
and doubt that. Billy Louise began to wish she had 
not come. She began to feel quite certain that Ward 
would be surprised and disgusted when he found her 
there, and would look at her with that faint curl of 
the lip and that fainter lift of the nostril above it, 
which made her go hot all over with the scorn in them. 
She had seen him look that way once or twice, and 
in spite of herself she began to picture his face with 
that expression. 

Billy Louise was on the point of riding away a good 
deal more hastily than she had come, in the hope that 
Ward would not discover her there. Then her own 
stubbornness came uppermost, and she told herself that 
she had a perfect right to ride wherever she pleased, 
and that if Ward did n't like it, he could do the other 
thing. 

She went to the door and stood looking out for a 
minute, wondering where he was. She turned back 
and stared around the room, which somehow held the 
imprint of his personality in spite of its rough 
simplicity. 

There was a little window behind the bunk, and be- 
side that a shelf filled with books and smoking mate- 
rial and matches. She knew by the very arrangement 
of that shelf and window that Ward liked to lie there 



LITTLE DEVILS OF DOUBT 177 

on the bunk and read while the light lasted. Well, he 
was not there now, at any rate. She went over and 
looked at the titles of the books, though she had ex- 
amined them with interest only yesterday. There was 
Burns ; and she knew why it was he could repeat Tam 
O'Shanter so readily with never a moment's hesitation. 
There were two volumes of Scott Lady of the- Lake 
and other poems, much thumbed and with a cigarette 
burn on the front cover, and Eenilworth. There were 
several books of Kipling's, mostly verses, and beside it 
Morgan's Ancient Society, with the corners broken, and 
a fine-print volume of Shakespeare's plays. Then there 
was a pile of magazines and beyond them a stack of 
books whose subjects varied from Balzac to strange, 
scientific-sounding names. At the other end of the 
shelf, within easy reach from one lying upon the bunk, 
was a cigar-box full of smoking tobacco, a half-dozen 
books of cigarette papers, and several blocks of the small, 
evil-smelling matches which men of the outdoors carry 
for their compact form and slow, steady blaze. 

At the head of the bed hung a flour-sack half full 
of some hard, lumpy stuff which Billy Louise had not 
noticed before. She felt the bag tentatively, could not 
guess its contents, and finally took it down and untied 
it. Within were irregular scraps and strips of stuff 
hard as bone a puzzle still to one unfamiliar with 
the frontier. Billy Louise pulled out a little piece, nib- 
bled a corner, and pronounced, " M-mm ! Jerky ! I 'm 
going to swipe some of that," which she proceeded to 
do, to the extent of filling her pocket. For to those 
who have learned to like it, jerked venison is quite as 
desirable as milk chocolate or any other nibbly tid-bit. 



178 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

The opposite wall had sacks of flour stacked against 
it, and boxes of staple canned goods, such as corn and 
tomatoes and milk and peaches. A box of canned 
peaches stood at the head of the bed, and upon that 
a case of tomatoes. Ward used them for a table and 
set the lantern there when he wanted to read in bed. 
" He 's got a pretty good supply of grub," was the ver- 
dict of Billy Louise, sizing up the assortment while 
she nibbled at the piece of jerky. " I wonder where 
he is, anyway ? " And a moment later : " He ought n't 
to hang his best clothes up like that ; they '11 be all wrin- 
kled when he wants to put them on." 

She went over and disposed of the best clothes to 
her liking, and shook out the dust. She had to own 
to herself that for a bachelor Ward was very orderly, 
though he did let his trousers hang down over the flour- 
sacks in a way to whiten their hems. She hung them 
in- a different place. 

But where was Ward? Billy Louise bethought her 
that Blue deserved something to eat after that hard ride, 
and led him down to the stable. There was no sign 
of Battler, and Billy Louise wondered anew at Ward's 
absence. It did not seem consistent with his haste to 
leave the Wolverine and his frequent assertion that 
he must get to work. From the stable door she could look 
over practically the whole creek-bottom within his fence, 
and she could see the broad sweep of the hills on either 
side. On her way back to the cabin, she tried to track 
Rattler, but there were several stock-trails leading in 
different directions, and the soil was too dry to leave 
any distinguishing marks. 

She waited for an hour or two, sitting in the door- 



LITTLE DEVILS OF DOUBT 179 

way, nibbling jerky and trying to read a mazagine. 
Then she found a stub of pencil, tore out an advertising 
page which had a wide margin, wrote : " I don't think 
you 're a bit nice. Why don't you stay home when a 
fellow comes to see you ? " This she folded neatly 
and put in the cigar-box of tobacco over Ward's pillow. 
It never once occurred to her that Ward, when he found 
the note, would believe she had placed it there the day 
before, and would never guess by its text that she had 
made a second trip to his claim. 

She resaddled Blue and rode away more depressed 
than ever, because her depression was now mixed with 
a disappointment keener than she would have cared 
to acknowledge, even to herself. 



CHAPTER XIII 



THE CORKAL, IN THE CANYON 

WHEKE the creek trail crossed the Big Hill and 
then swung to the left that it might follow the 
easy slopes of Cedar Creek, Blue turned off to the 
right of his own accord, as if he took it for granted 
that his lady would return the way she had come. His 
lady had not thought anything about it, but after a 
brief hesitation she decided that Blue should have his 
way; after all, it would simplify her explanations of 
the long ride if she came home by way of the canyon. 
She could say that she had ridden farther out into 
the hills than usual, which was true enough. 

Billy Louise did not own such a breeder of blues as 
a lazy liver, her nerves were in fine working order, and 
her digestion was perfect; and it is a well-known fact 
that a trouble must be born of reality rather than imagi- 
nation, if it would ride far behind the cantle. Billy 
Louise was late, and already the shadows lay like long 
draperies upon the hills she faced: long, purple cloaks 
ruffed with golden yellow and patterned with indigo 
patches, which were the pines, and splotches of dark 
green, which were the thickets of alder and quaking 
aspens. She could n't feel depressed for very long, and 
before she had climbed over the first rugged ridge that 
reached out like a crooked finger into the narrow val- 
ley, she was humming under her breath and riding 



THE CORRAL IN THE CANYON 181 

with the reins dropped loose upon Blue's neck, so that 
he went where the way pleased him best. Before she 
was down that ridge and beginning to climb the next, 
she was singing softly a song her mother had taught 
her long ago, when she was seven or so : 

"The years creep slowly by, Lorena, 
The snow is on the grass again; 
The sun 'a low down the sky, Lorena " 

Blue gathered himself together and jumped a wash- 
out three feet across and goodness knows how deep and 
jarred that melancholy melody quite out of Billy 
Louise's mind. When she had settled herself again to 
the slow climb, she broke out with what she called 
Ward's Come-all-ye, and with a twinkle of eye and both 
dimples showing deep, went on with a very slight in- 
terruption in her singing. 

" ' Oh, a ten-dollar hoss and a forty-dollar saddle ' 
that 's you Blue. You don't amount to nothing nohow, 
doing jackrabbit stunts like that when I 'm not look- 
ing! 'Coma ti yi youpy, youpy-a.' ' She watched 
a cloud shadow sweep like a great bird over a sunny 
slope and murmured while she watched : " Cloud-boats 
sailing sunny seas is that original, or have I cribbed 
it from some honest-to-goodness poet? Blue, if fate 
had n't made a cowpuncher of me, I 'd be chewing up 
lead-pencils trying to find a rhyme for alfalfa, maybe. 
And where would you be, you old skate ? If the Louise 
of me had been developed at the expense of the Billy 
of me, and I 'd taken to making battenburg doilies with 
butterflies in the corners, and embroidering corset covers 
till I put my eyes out, and writing poetry on Sundays 
when mommie would n't let me sew. I wonder if 



182 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Ward Maybe he 'd have liked me better if I 'd lived 
up to the Louise and cut out the Billy part. I 'd be 
horns, right now, asking mommie whether I should use 
soda or baking-powder to make my muffins with Oh, 
gracious ! " She leaned over and caught a handful of 
Blue's slatey mane and tousled it, till he laid his ears 
flat on his head and flipped his nose around to show 
her that his teeth were bared to the gums. Billy Louise 
laughed and gave another yank. 

" You wish I were an embroidering young lady, do 
you ? Aw, where would you be, if you did n't have me 
to devil the life out of you ? Well, why don't you take 
a chunk out of me, then? Don't be an old bluffer, 
Blue. If you want to eat me, why, go to it ; only you 
don't. You 're just a-bluffing. You like to be tousled 
and you know it ; else why do you tag me all over the 
place when I don't want you ? Huh ? That 's to pay 
you back for jumping that washout when I was n't 
looking." A twitch of the mane here brought Blue's 
head around again with all his teeth showing. " And 
this is for jarring that lovely, weepy song out of me. 
You know you hate it; you always do lay back your 
ears when I sing that, but oh, all right when I 
sing, then. But you 've got to stand for it. I Ve been 
an indigo bag all day long, and I 'm going to sing if 
I want to. Fate made me a lady cowpunch instead of 
a poet-ess, and you can't stop me from singing when I 
feel it in my system." 

She began again with the " Ten-dollar hoss and forty- 
dollar saddle," and sang as much of the old trail song 
as she had ever heard and could remember, substituting 
milder expletires now and then and laughing at herself 



THE CORRAL IN THE CANYON 183 

for doing it, because a self-confessed " lady cowpunch " 
is after all hedged about by certain limitations in the 
matter of both speech and conduct She did not sing 
it all, but she sang enough to last over a mile of rough 
going, and she did not have to repeat many verses to 
do it. 

Blue, because she still left the reins loose, chose his 
own trail, which was easier than that which they had 
taken in the forenoon, but more roundabout. Billy 
Louise, observing how he avoided rocky patches and 
went considerably out of his way to keep his feet on 
soft soil, stopped in the middle of a " Coma ti yi " to 
ask him solicitously if he were getting tender-footed; 
and promised him a few days off, in the pasture. There- 
after she encouraged the roundabout progress, even 
though she knew it would keep them in the hills until 
dusk; for she was foolishly careful of Blue, however 
much she might tease him and call him names. 

Quite suddenly, just at sundown, her cheerful jour- 
neying was interrupted in a most unexpected manner. 
She was dreaming along a flat-bottomed canyon, looking 
for an easy way across, when Blue threw up his head, 
listened with his ears thrust forward, and sniffed with 
widened nostrils. From his manner, almost anything 
might lie ahead of them. And because certain of the 
possibilities would call for quick action if any of them 
became a certainty, Billy Louise twisted her gun-belt 
around so that her six-shooter swung within easy reach 
of her hand. With her fingers she made sure that 
the gun was loose in its holster and kicked Blue mildly 
as a hint to go on and see what it was all about. 

Blue went forward, stepping easily on the soft side- 



184 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

hill. In rough country, whatever you want to see is 
nearly always around a sharp bend; you read it so in 
the stories and books of travels, and when you ride out 
in the hills, you find it so in reality. Billy Louise rode 
for three or four minutes before she received any inkling 
of what lay ahead, though Blue's behavior during that 
interval had served to reassure her somewhat. He was 
interested still in what lay just out of sight beyond a 
shoulder of the hill, but he did not appear to be in 
the least alarmed. Therefore, Billy Louise knew it 
couldn't be a bear, at any rate. 

They came to the point of the hill's shoulder, and 
Billy Louise tightened the reins instinctively while she 
stared at what lay revealed beneath. The head of the 
gulch was blocked with a corral small, high, hidden 
from view on all sides save where she stood, by the 
jagged walls of rock and heavy aspen thickets beyond. 

The corral was but the setting for what Billy Louise 
stared at so unbelievingly. A horseman had ridden out 
of the corral just as she came into sight, had turned 
a sharp corner, and had disappeared by riding up the 
same slope she occupied, but farther along, and in a 
shallow depression which hid him completely after that 
one brief glimpse. 

Of course, the gulch was dusky with deep shadows, 
and she had had only a glimpse. But the horse was 
a dark bay, and the rider was slim and tall and wore 
a gray hat. The heart of Billy Louise paused a mo- 
ment from its steady beating and then sank heavily 
under a great weight. She was range-born and range- 
bred. She had sat wide-eyed on her daddy's knees and 
heard him tell of losses in cattle and horses and of cor- 



THE CORRAL IN THE CANYON 185 

rals found hidden away in strange places and of un- 
known riders who disappeared mysteriously into the 
hills. She had heard of these things ; they were a part 
of the stage setting for wild dramas of the West. 

With a white line showing around her close-pressed 
lips and a horror in her wide-eyed glance, she rode 
quietly along the side of the bluff toward where she 
had seen the horseman disappear. He was riding a 
dark bay, and he wore a gray hat and dark coat, and 
he was slim and tall. Billy Louise made a sound that 
was close to a groan and set her teeth hard together 
afterwards. 

She reached the hillside just above the corral. There 
were cattle down there, moving uneasily about in the 
shadows. Of the horseman there was of course no sign ; 
just the corral, and a few restless cattle shut inside, 
and on the hilltops a soft, rose-violet glow, and in 
the sky beyond a blend of purple and deep crimson to 
show where the sun had been. Close beside her as 
she stood looking down a little, gray bird twittered 
wistfully. 

Billy Louise took a deep breath and rode on, angling 
slightly up the bluff, so that she could cross at the head 
of the gulch. It was very quiet, very peaceful, and 
wildly beautiful, this jumble of hills and deep-gashed 
canyons. But Billy Louise felt as though something 
precious had died. She should have gone down and 
investigated and turned those cattle loose; that is, if 
she dared. Well, she dared ; it was not fear that held 
her to the upper slopes. She did not want to know 
what brand they bore or whether an iron had beared 
fresh marks. 



186 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" Oh, God ! " she said once aloud ; and there was a 
prayer and a protest, a curse and a question all in those 
two words. 

So trouble trouble that sickened her ver y soul and 
choked her into dumbness and squeezed her heart so 
that the ache of it was agony came and rode with her 
through the brooding dusk of the canyons and over the 
brighter hilltops. 

Billy Louise did not remember anything much about 
that ride, except that she was glad the way was long. 
Blue carried her steadily on and on and needed no 
guiding, and though Wolverine canyon was black dark 
in most places, she liked it so. 

John Pringle was standing by the gate waiting for 
her, which was unusual, if Billy Louise had been nor- 
mal enough to notice it. He came forward and took 
Blue by the bridle when she dismounted, which was 
still more unusual, for Billy Louise always cared for 
her own horse both from habit and preference. 

" Yor mommie, she 's sick," he announced stolidly. 
" She 's worry you maybe hurt yoreself. Yo better go, 
maybe." 

Billy Louise did not answer, but ran up the path to 
the cabin. " Oh, has everything got to happen all at 
once ? " she cried aloud, protesting against the implaca- 
bleness of misfortune. 

" Yor mommie 's sick," Phoebe announced in a whis- 
per. " She 's crazy 'cause you been so long. She 's aw- 
ful bad, I guess." 

Billy Louise said nothing, but went in where her 
mother lay moaning, her face white and turned to the 
ceiling. Billy Louise herself had pulled up her re- 



THE CORRAL IN THE CANYON 187 

serves of strength and cheerfulness, and the fingers she 
laid on her mother's forehead were cool and steady. 

" Poor old mommie ! Is it that nasty lumbago 
again ? " she asked caressingly and did not permit the 
tiniest shade of anxiety to spoil the reassurance of her 
presence. " I went farther than usual, and Blue 's 
pretty tender, so I eased him along, and I 'm fearfully 
late. I suppose you 've been having all kinds of dis- 
asters happening to me." She was passing her fingers 
soothingly over her mother's forehead while she ex* 
plained, and she saw that her mother did not moan so 
much as when she came into the room. 

" Of course I worried. I wish you would n't take 
them long rides. Oh, I guess it 's lumbago mostly 
but seems like it ain't, either. The pain seems to be 
mostly in my side." She stirred restlessly and moaned 
again. 

" What 's Phoebe been doing for it ? You don't seem 
to have any fever, mommie and that 's a good thing. 
I '11 go fix you one of those dandy spice poultices. Had 
any supper, mommie ? " 

" Oh, I could n't eat. Phoebe made a hop poultice, 
but it 's awful soppy." 

" Well, never mind. Your dear daughter is on the 
job now. She '11 have you all comfy in just about two 
minutes. Head ache, mum ? All right. I '11 just shake 
up your pilly and bring you such a dandy spice poultice 
I expect you '11 want to eat it ! " Billy Louise's voice 
was soft and had a broody sweetness when she wished 
it so, that soothed more than medicine. Her mother's 
eyes closed wearily while the girl talked; the muscles 
of her face relaxed a little from their look of pain. 



188 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Billy Louise bent and laid her lips lightly on her moth- 
er's cheek. "Poor old mommie! I 'd have come home 
a-running if I 'd known she was sick and had to have 
nasty, soppy stuff." 

In the kitchen a very different Billy Louise meas- 
ured spices, and asked a question now and then in a 
whisper, and breathed with a repressed unevenness which 
betrayed the strain she was under. 

" Tell John to saddle up and go for the doctor, 
Phoebe, and don't let mommie know, whatever you do. 
This is n't her lumbago at all. I don't know what it 
is. I wonder if a hot turpentine cloth would n't be 
better than this ? I 've a good mind to try it ; her eyes 
are glassy with fever, and her skin is cold as a fish. 
You tell John to hurry up. He can ride Boxer. Tell 
him I want him to get a doctor here by to-morrow noon 
if he has to kill his horse doing it." 

" Is she that bad ? " Phrebe's black eyes glistened 
with consternation. " She 's groaned all day and shook 
her head like this all time." 

" Oh, stop looking like that ! ~N"o wonder she 's sick, 
if you've stood over her with that kind of a face on 
you. You look as if someone were dead in the house ! " 

" I 'm skeered of sick folks. Honest, it gives me 
shivers." 

" Well, keep out then. Make some fresh tea, Phcebe 
or no, make some good, strong coffee. I '11 need it, 
if I 'm up all night. Make it strong, Phrebe. Hurry, 
and " She stopped short and ran into the bed- 
room, called there by her mother's cry of pain. 

That night took its toll of Billy Louise and left a 
seared place in her memory. It was a night of snap- 



THE CORRAL IN THE CANYON 189 

ping fire in the cook-stove that hot water might be al- 
ways ready ; of tireless struggle with the pain that came 
and tortured, retired sullenly from Billy Louise's stub- 
born fighting with poultices and turpentine cloths and 
every homely remedy she had ever heard of, and came 
again just when she thought she had won the fight. 

There was no time to give thought to the trouble 
that had ridden home with her, though its presence was 
like a black shadow behind her while she worked and 
went to and fro between bedroom and kitchen, and 
fought that tearing pain. 

She met the dawn hollow-eyed and so tired she could 
not worry very much about anything. Her mother 
slept uneasily to prove that the battle had not gone alto- 
gether against the girl who had fought the night 
through. She had her reward in full measure when the 
doctor came, in the heat of noon, and after terrible 
minutes of suspense for Billy Louise while he counted 
pulse and took temperature and studied symptoms, told 
her that she had done well, and that she and her homely 
poultices had held back tragedy from that house. 

Billy Louise lay down upon the couch out on the 
back porch and slept heavily for three hours, while 
Phrebe and the doctor watched over her mother. 

She woke with a start. She had been dreaming, 
and the dream had taken from her cheeks what little 
color her night vigil had left. She had dreamed that 5 
Ward was in danger, that men were hunting him for 
what he had done at that corral. The corral seemed 
the center of a fight between Ward and the men. She 
dreamed that he came to her, and that she must hide 
him away and save him. But though she took him to 



190 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Minervy's cave, which was secret enough for her pur- 
pose, yet she could not feel that he was safe, even there. 
There was something some menace. 

Billy Louise went softly into the house, tiptoed to 
the door of her mother's room, and saw that she lay 
quiet, with her eyes closed. Beside the window the 
doctor sat with his spectacles far down toward the 
end of his nose, reading a pale-green pamphlet that he 
must have brought in his pocket. Phoehe was down by 
the creek, washing clothes in the shade of a willow- 
clump. 

She went into her own room, still walking on her 
toes. In her trunk was a blue plush box of the kind 
that is given to one at Christmas. It was faded, and 
the clasp was showing brassy at the edges. Sitting upon 
her bed with the box in her lap, Billy Louise pawed 
hastily in the jumble of keepsakes it held: an eagle's 
claw which she meant sometime to have mounted for 
a brooch; three or four arrowheads of the shiny, black 
stuff which the Indians were said to have brought from 
Yellowstone Park; a knot of green ribbon which she 
had worn to a St. Patrick's Day dance in Boise; rat- 
tlesnake rattles of all sizes ; several folded clippings 
verses that had caught her fancy and had been put 
away and forgotten ; an amber bead she had found once. 
She turned the box upside down in her lap and shook 
it. It must be there the thing she sought ; the thing 
that had troubled her most in her dream; the thing 
that was a menace while it existed. It was at the very 
bottom of the box, caught in a corner. She took it 
out with fingers that trembled, crumpled it into a little 
ball so that she could not read what it said, straight- 



THE CORRAL IN THE CANYON 191 

ened it immediately, and read it reluctantly from the 
beginning to the end where the last word was clipped 
short with hasty scissors. A paragraph cut from a news- 
paper, it was; yellow and frayed from contact with 
other objects, telling of things 

Billy Louise bit her lips until they hurt, but she 
could not keep back the tears that came hot and stinging 
while she read. She slid the little heap of odds and 
ends to the middle of the bed, crushed the clipping into, 
her palm, and went out stealthily into the immaculate 
kitchen. As if she were being spied upon, she went 
cautiously to the stove, lifted a lid, and dropped the 
clipping in where the wood blazed the brightest. She 
watched it flare and become nothing not even a pinch 
of ashes; the clipping was not very large. When it 
was gone, she put the lid back and went tiptoeing to the 
door. Then she ran. 

Phoebe was down by the creek, so Billy Louise went 
to the stable, through that and on beyond, still run- 
ning. Farther down was a grassy nook on, beyond 
the road. She went there and hid behind the willows, 
where she could cry and no one be the wiser. But 
she could not cry the ache out of her heart, nor the 
rebellion against the hurt that life had given her. If 
she could only have burned memory when she burned 
that clipping! She could still believe and be happy, 
if only she could forget the things it said. 

Phosbe called her, after a long while had passed. 
Billy Louise bathed her face in the 'cold water of the 
Wolverine, used her handkerchief for a towel, and went 
back to take up the duties life had laid upon her. The 
doctor's team was hitched to the light buggy he drove, 



192 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

and the doctor was standing in the doorway with his 
square medicine-case in his hand, waiting to give her a 
few final directions before he left. 

He was like so many doctors ; he seemed to be afraid 
to tell the whole truth about his patient. He stuck to 
evasive optimism and then neutralized the reassurances 
he uttered by emphasizing the necessity of being noti- 
fied if Mrs. MacDonald showed any symptoms of an- 
other attack. 

" Don't wait," he told Billy Louise gravely. " Send 
for me at once if she complains of that pain again, 
or appears " 

" But what is it ? " Billy Louise would not be put 
off by any vagueness. 

The doctor told Billy Louise in terms that carried 
no meaning whatever to her mind. She gathered merely 
that it was rather serious if it persisted whatever 
it was and that she must not leave her mommie for 
many hours at a time, because she might have another 
attack at any time. The doctor told her, however, 
in plain English that mommie was well over this attack 
whatever it was and that she need only be kept 
quiet for a few days and given the medicine what- 
ever that was that he had left. 

" It does seem as if everything is all muffled up in 
mystery ! " she complained, when he drove away. " I 
can fight anything I can see, but when I Ve got to go 
blindfolded " She brushed her fingers across her 
eyes and glanced hurriedly into the little looking-glass 
that hung beside the door. " Yes, mommie, just a min- 
ute," she called cheerfully. 

She ran into her own room, grabbed a can of talcum, 



THE CORRAL IN THE CANYON 193 

and did not wait to see whether she applied it evenly 
to her telltale eyelids, but dabbed at them on the way 
to her mother's room. 

" Doctor says you 're all right, mommie ; only you 
must n't go digging post-holes or shoveling hay for 
awhile." 

" !No, I guess not I " Her mother responded uncon- 
sciously to the stimulation of Billy Louise's tone. " I 
could n't dig holes with a teaspoon, I 'm that weak and 
useless. Did he say what it was, Billy Louise ? " The 
sick are always so curious about their illnesses I 

" Oh, your lumbago got to scrapping with your liver. 
I forget the name he gave it, but it 's nothing to worry 
about." Billy Louise had imagination, remember. 

" I guess he 'd think it was something to worry 
about, if he had it," her mother retorted fretfully, but 
reassured nevertheless by the casual manner of Billy 
Louise. " I believe I could eat a little mite of toast 
and drink some tea," she added tentatively. 

" And an egg poached soft if you want it,* mom. 
Phoebe just brought in the eggs." Billy Louise went 
out humming unconcernedly under her breath as if she 
had not a care beyond the proper toasting of the bread 
and brewing of the tea. 

One need not go to war or voyage to the far corners 
of the earth to find the stuff heroes are made of. 



CHAPTER XIV 

EACH IN HIS OWN TRAIL 

SINCE nothing in this world is absolutely immutable 
the human emotions least of all, perhaps 
Billy Louise did not hold changeless her broken faith 
in Ward. She saw it broken into fragments before the 
evidence of her own eyes, and the fragments ground 
to dust beneath the weight of what she knew of his past 
things he had told her himself. So she thought there 
was no more faith in him, and her heart went empty and 
aching through the next few days. 

But, since Billy Louise was human, and a woman 
not altogether because she was twenty ! she stopped, 
after awhile, gathered carefully the dust of her dead 
faith, and, like God, she began to create. First she 
fashioned doubts of her doubt. How did she know 
she had not made a mistake, there at that corral ? Other 
men wore gray hats and rode dark bay horses; other 
men were slim and tall and she had only had a 
glimpse after all, and the light was deceptive down 
there in the shadows. When that first doubt was 
molded, and she had breathed into it the breath of life 
so that it stood sturdily before her, she took heart and 
created reasons, a whole company of them, to tell her 
why she ought to give Ward the benefit of the doubt. 
She remembered what Charlie Fox had said about cir- 



EACH IN HIS OWN TRAIL 195 

cumstantial evidence. She would not make the mis- 
take he had made. 

So she spent other days and long, wakeful nights. 
And since it seemed impossible to bring her faith to 
life again just as it had been, with the glamor pf ro- 
mance and the sweetness of pity and the strength of her 
own innocence to make it a beautiful faith indeed, she 
used all her innocence and all her pity and a little of 
romance and created something even sweeter than her 
untried faith had been. She had a new element to 
strengthen it. She knew that she loved Ward ; she had 
learned that from the hurt it had given her to lose 
her faith in him. 

That was the record of the inner Billy Louise which 
no one ever saw. The Billy Louise which her little 
world knew went her way unchanged, except in small 
details that escaped the notice of those nearest her. A 
look in her eyes, for one thing ; a hurt, questioning look 
that was sometimes rebellious as well ; a droop of her 
mouth, also, when she was off her guard; a sad, tired 
little droop that told of the weight of responsibility and 
worry she was carrying. 

Ward observed both, the minute he saw her on the 
trail. He had come across country on the chance that 
she might be riding out that way, and he had come 
upon her unawares while she and Blue were staring 
out over the desert from the height they had attained 
in the hills. 

" 'Lo, Bill ! " he said, when he was quite close, and 
held himself ready to meet whatever mood she might 
present. 

She turned her head quickly and looked at him, and 



196 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

the hurt look was still in her eyes, the droop still showed 
at her lips. And Ward knew they had been there 
before she saw him. 

" Wha 's molla, Bill ? " he asked, in the tone that was 
calculated to invite an unburdening of her troubles. 

" Oh, nothing in particular. Mommie 's been awfully 
sick, and I 'm always worried when I 'm away from 
the ranch, for fear she '11 have another spell while I 'in 
gone. The doctor said she might have, any time. Were 
you headed for our place? If you are, come on; I 
was just starting back. I don't dare be away any 
longer." If that were a real unburdening, Ward was 
an unreasonable young man. Billy Louise looked at 
him again, and this time her eyes were clear and 
friendly. 

Ward was not satisfied, for all the surface seemed 
smooth enough. He was too sensitive not to feel a 
difference, and he was too innocent of any wrongdoing 
or thinking to guess what was the matter. Guilt is a 
good barometer of personal atmosphere, and Ward had 
none of it. The worst of him she had known for more 
than a year; he had told her himself, and she had 
healed the hurt almost of the past by her firm 
belief in him and by her friendship. Could you expect 
Ward to guess that she had seen her faith in him die 
a violent death no longer than two weeks ago? Such 
a possibility never occurred to him. 

For all that, he felt there was a difference somewhere. 
It chilled his eagerness a little, and it blanketed his 
enthusiasm so that he did not tell her the things he 
had meant to tell. He had ridden over with another 
nugget in his pocket a nugget the size of an almond. 



EACH IN HIS OWN TRAIL 197 

He had come to give it to Billy Louise and to tell her 
how and where he had found it. 

It is too bad that he changed his mind again and kept 
that lump of gold in his pocket. It would have ex- 
plained so much, if he had given it to Billy Louise to 
put in her blue plush treasure box. It would even have 
brought to life that first faith in him. She might have 
told him one never can foresee the lengths to which 
a woman's confessional mood will carry her about that 
corral hidden in the canyon, and of her sickening cer- 
tainty that she had seen him ride stealthily away from 
it. If she had, he would have convinced her that she 
was mistaken, and that he had that afternoon been 
washing gold a good ten miles from there, until it was 
too dark for him to work. 

He took the nugget back home, and he took it sooner 
than he had intended to return. He also carried back 
a fit of the blues which seemed to have attacked him 
without cause or pretext, since he had not quarreled 
with Billy Louise, and had been warmly welcomed by 
" mommie." Poor mommie was looking white and frail, 
and her temples were too distinctly veined with purple. 
Ward told himself that it was no wonder his Wilhemina 
acted strained and unnatural. He meant to work harder 
than ever and get his stake so that he could go and make 
her give him the right to take care of her. 

He began to figure the cost of commuting his home- 
stead right away, so that he would not have to " hold 
it down " for another three years. Maybe she would 
not want to bring her mother so far off the main road. 
In that case, he would go down and put that Wolverine 
place in shape. He had no squeamishness about living 



198 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

on her ranch instead of his own, if she wanted it that 
way. He meant to be better " hooked up " financially 
than she was and have more cattle, when he put the 
gold ring on her finger. Then he would do whatever 
she wanted him to do, and he would not have to crucify 
his pride doing it. 

You see, they could not have quarreled, since Ward 
carried castles as well as the blues. In fact, their part- 
ing had given Ward an uneven pulse for a mile, for 
Billy Louise had gone with him as usual as far as the 
corral, when he started home. And when Ward had 
picked up his reins and turned to put his toe in the 
stirrup, Billy Louise had come close to his very 
shoulder. Ward had turned his face toward her, and 
Billy Louise Billy Louise had impulsively taken his 
head between her two hands, had looked deep into his 
eyes, and then had kissed him wistfully on the lips. 
Then she had turned and fled up the path, waving him 
away up the trail. And though Ward never guessed 
that to her that kiss was a penitent vow of loyalty to 
their friendship and a slap in the face of the doubt- 
devils that still pursued her weaker moments, it set 
him planning harder than ever for that stake he must 
win before he dared urge her further toward matri- 
mony. 

It 's a wonder that the kiss did not wipe out com- 
pletely the somber mdbd that held him. That it did 
not, but served merely to tangle his thoughts in a most 
hopeless manner, perhaps proves how greatly the inner 
life of Billy Louise had changed her in those two weeks. 

She changed still more in the next two months, how- 
ever. There was the strain of her mother's precarious 



EACH IN HIS OWN TRAIL 199 

health which kept Billy Louise always on the alert and 
always trying to hide her fears. She must be quick 
to detect the^ first symptoms of a return attack of the 
illness, and she must not let her mother suspect that 
there was danger of a return. That much the doctor 
had made plain to her. 

Besides that, there was an undercurrent of gossip 
and rumors of cattle stealing, whenever a man stopped 
at the ranch. It worried Billy Louise, in spite of her- 
rebuilt belief in Ward. Doubt would seize her some- 
times in spite of herself, and she did not see Ward 
often enough to let his personality fight those doubts. 
She saw him just once in the next two months, and then 
only for an hour or so. 

A man rode up one night and stayed with them until 
morning, after the open-handed custom of the range- 
land. Billy Louise did not talk with him very much. 
He had shifty eyes and a coarse, loose-lipped mouth and 
a thick neck, and, girl-like, she took a violent dislike 
to him. But John Pringle told her afterwards that 
he was Buck Olney, the new stock inspector, and that 
he was prowling around to see if he could find out any- 
thing. 

Billy Louise worried a good deal, after that. Once 
she rode out early with the intention of going to Ward's 
claim to warn him. But three miles of saner thought 
changed her purpose: she dared not leave her mother 
all day, for one thing; and for another, she could 
scarcely warn Ward without letting him see that she 
felt he needed warning; and even Billy Louise shrank 
from what might follow. 

The stock inspector stopped again, on his way back 



200 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

to the railroad. Billy Louise was so anxious that she 
smothered her dislike and treated him nicely, which 
thawed the man to an alarming amiability. She ques- 
tioned him artfully trust Billy Louise for that ! - 
and she decided that the stock inspector was either a 
very poor detective or a very good actor. He did not, 
for instance, mention any corral hidden in a blind can- 
yon away back in the hills, and Billy Louise did not 
mention it, either. He had not found any worked 
brands, he said. And he did not appear to know any- 
thing further about Ward than the mere fact of his 
existence. 

" There 's a fellow holding down a claim, away over 
on Mill Creek," he had remarked. " I '11 look him up 
when I come back, though Seabeck says he 's all right." 

" Ward is all right," asserted Billy Louise, rather 
unwisely. 

" Have n't a doubt of it. I thought maybe he might 
have seen something that might give us a clew." Per- 
haps the stock inspector was wiser than she gave him 
credit for being. He did not at any rate pursue the 
subject any farther, until he found an opportunity to 
talk to Mrs. MacDonald herself. Then he artfully 
mentioned the fellow on Mill Creek, and because she did 
not know any reason for caution, he got all the infor- 
mation he wanted, and more, for mommie was in one 
of her garrulous humors. 

He went away in a thoughtful mood, and I may as 
well tell you why. Do you remember that evening when 
Ward sat before the fire thinking so intently of a man 
that he pulled a gun on Billy Louise when she startled 
him? Well, this stock inspector was the man. And 



EACH IN HIS OWN TRAIL 201 

this man went away from the Wolverine thinking of 
Ward quite as intently as Ward sometimes thought of 
him. If Billy Louise had thrown a chip and hit the 
stock inspector on the back of the neck, it is very likely 
that he would have pulled a gun, also. I 've an idea 
that Billy Louise might have done something more than 
throw a chip at him if she had known who he was; 
but she did not know, and she slept the sounder for 
her ignorance. 

After that the days drifted quietly for a month and 
grew nippier at each end and lazier in the middle; 
which meant that the short summer was over, and 
that fall was getting ready to paint the wooded slopes 
with her gayest colors, and that one must prepare for 
the siege of winter. 

It was some time in the latter part of September that 
Billy Louise got up in the middle of a frosty night 
because she heard her mother moaning. That was 
the beginning. She sent John off before daylight for 
the doctor, and before the next night she stood with 
her lips pressed together and watched the doctor count 
mommie's pulse and take mommie's temperature, and 
drew in her breath hardly when she saw how long he 
studied the thermometer afterwards. 

There was a month or so of going to and fro on 
her toes and of watching the clock with a mind to 
medicine-giving. There were nights and nights and 
nights when the cabin window winked like a star fallen 
into the coulee, from dusk to red dawn. Ward rode 
over once, stayed all night, and went home in a silent 
rage because he could not do a thing. 

There was a week of fluctuating hope, and a time 



202 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

when the doctor said mommie must go to a hospital - 
Boise, since she had friends there. And there was a 
terrible, nerve-racking journey to the railroad. And 
when Ward rode next to the Wolverine ranch, there was 
no Billy Louise to taunt or tempt him. John Pringle 
and Phcebe told him in brief, stolid sentences of the 
later developments and gave him a meal and offered 
him a bed, which he declined. 

When the suspense became maddening, after that, 
he would ride down to the Wolverine for news. And 
the news was monotonously scant. Phoebe could read 
and write, after a fashion, and Billy Louise sent her 
a letter now and then, saying that mommie was about 
the same, and that she wanted John to do certain things 
about the ranch. She could not leave mommie, she 
said. Ward gathered that she would not. 

Once when he was at the ranch, he wrote a letter to 
Billy Louise, and told her that he would come to Boise 
if there was anything he could do, and begged her 
to let him know if she needed any money. Beyond 
that he worked and worked, and tried to crowd the lone- 
someness out of his days and the hunger from his 
dreams, with complete bone-weariness. He did not 
expect an answer to his letter at least he told him- 
self that he did not but one day Phoebe gave him 
a thin little letter more precious in his eyes than the 
biggest nugget he had found. 

Billy Louise did not write much; she explained that 
she could only scribble a line or two while mommie 
slept. Mommie was about the same. She did not think 
there was anything Ward could do, and she thanked 
him for offering to help. There was nothing, she said 



EACH IN HIS OWN TRAIL 203 

pathetically, that anybody could do; even the doctors 
did not seem able to do much, except tell her lies and 
charge her for them. No, she did not need any money, 
" thank you just the same, Ward." That was about 
all. It did not sound in the least like Billy Louise. 

Ward answered the note then and there, and called 
her Wilhemina-mine which was an awkward name 
to write and cost him five minutes of cogitation over 
the spelling. But he wanted it down on paper where 
she could see it and remember how it sounded when 
he said it, even if it did look queer. Farther along he 
started to call her Bill Loo, but rubbed it out and sub- 
stituted Lady Girl (with capitals). Altogether he did 
better than he knew, for he made Billy Louise cry 
when she read it, and he made her say " Dear Ward ! " 
under her breath, and remember how his hair waved over 
his left temple, and how he looked when that smile hid 
just behind his lips and his eyes. And he made her 
forget that she had lost faith in him. She needed to 
cry, and she needed to remember and also to forget 
some things; for life was a hard, dull drab in Boise, 
with nothing to lighten it, save a vicarious hope that 
did not comfort. 

Billy Louise was not stupid. She saw through the 
vagueness of the doctors ; and besides, she was so hungry 
for her hills that she felt like beating the doctors with 
her fists, because they did nothing to make her mom- 
mie well enough to go home. She grew to hate the 
nurse and her neutral cheerfulness. 

That is how the fall passed for Billy Louise, and 
the early part of the winter. 



CHAPTER XV 



ONE day late in the fall, Ward was riding the hills 
off to the north and west of his claim, looking 
at the condition of the range there and keeping an 
eye out for Y6 cattle. He had bought another dozen 
head of mixed stock, over toward Hardup, and they 
were not yet past the point of straying off their new 
range. So, having keen eyes and the incentive to use 
them, he paid attention to stock tracks in the soft places, 
and he saw everything within the sweep of his vision; 
and, since the day was clear and fine, his range of 
vision, when he reached a high point, extended to the 
Three Buttes away out in the desert. 

By sheer accident he rode up to the canyon where the 
little corral lay hidden at the end, and looked down. 
And since he rode up at an angle different from the 
one Billy Louise had taken, the corral was directly 
beneath him so directly, in fact, that half of it was 
hidden from sight. He saw that there were cattle within 
it, however, and two men at work there. And by chance 
he lifted his eyes and saw the nose of a horse beyond 
a jutting ledge sixty yards or so away, and the crown 
of a hat showing just above the ledge; a lookout, he 
judged instantly, and pulled Rattler behind the rock 
he had been at some pains to ride around. 

Ward was a cowpuncher. He knew the tricks of 



'YOU WON'T GET ME AGAIN' 205 

the trade so well that he did not wonder what was 
going on down there. He knew. He was tempted *o 
do as Billy Louise had done ride on and pass up 
knowledge which might be disagreeable; for Ward was 
not one to spy upon his fellows, and the man whom he 
would betray into the hands of a sheriff must be guilty 
of a most heinous crime. That was his code: To let 
every fellow have a chance to work out his own salva- 
tion or damnation as he might choose. I don't sup^ 
pose there was anything he hated worse than an in- 
former. 

He got behind the rock, since he had no great desire 
to be shot, and he discovered that his view of the corral 
was much plainer than from where he had first seen 
it. He looked behind him for an easy retreat to the 
skyline, and then b'efore he turned to ride away, he 
glanced down again curiously. 

A man walked out into the center of the corral and 
stood there in the revealing sunlight. Ward's eyes bored 
like gimlets through the space that divided them. In- 
stinctively his hand went to the gun on his hip. It 
was a long pistol shot, and he was afraid he might 
miss; for Ward was not a wizard with a gun, much 
as I should like to misrepresent him as a dead shot. 
He was human, just like yourself. He could shoot 
pretty well, a great deal better than lots of men who 
do more boasting than he ever did, but he frequently 
missed. He measured the distance with his mind while 
the man stood there talking to someone unseen. To 
look at Ward's face, you would have sworn that the 
man was doomed; but something held Ward's finger 
from crooking on the trigger; the man had his back 



206 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

turned squarely toward the gun. Ward waited. The 
man did not move. He waited another minute, and 
then he opened his lips to shout. And when his lips 
parted for the call that would bring the fellow facing 
him, Ward's tricky brain snapped before his eyes the 
face of Billy Louise. 

He lowered the gun. He could not shoot when he 
knew that the bullet would split a gulf between himself 
and the girl a gulf that would separate him forever 
from that future where stood his air castles. Billy 
Louise had talked to him very seriously one day about 
this very possibility. She had made him see that shoot- 
ing this man would be the worst thing he could pos- 
sibly do. 

He let down the hammer with his thumb, slid the 
gun back into its holster, and dismounted, with a glance 
toward the place where the lookout was stationed. He 
was sure he had not been seen, and so he crouched 
behind a splinter of rock and watched. He had no plan, 
but his instinct impelled him to closely watch Buck 
Olney. 

Another man came into view, down there in the cor- 
ral. He also stood plainly revealed, and Ward gave 
a little snort of contemptuous surprise when he rec- 
ognized him. After that he studied the situation with 
scowling brows. This other man either upset his con- 
clusions or complicated his manner of dealing with 
Buck Olney. Ward would not have hesitated one sec- 
ond about putting the sheriff on the trail of Buck, but 
if the second man were implicated, he could not betray 
one without betraying the other. And if the busi- 
ness down there in the corral were lawful, then he 



' YOU WON'T GET ME AGAIN ' 207 

must think of some other means. At any rate, the 
thing to do now was to make sure. 

The two in the corral came out and closed the gate 
behind them, and the first man kicked apart the em- 
bers of a small fire and afterward busied himself with 
the ground either looking for tracks or covering them 
up. They came a little way along the side of the bluff, 
mounted, and rode up toward where the lookout waited. 
And one of them rode a dark bay, and was slim and 
tall, and wore a gray hat. 

Ward glanced at Rattler standing half asleep with 
reins dropped to the ground. He reached out, took 
the reins, and led the horse farther down under the 
shelter of the ledge. Rattler pricked up his ears at 
the sound of those other riders, but he did not show 
enough interest to nicker a greeting; he was always a 
self-centered beast and was content to go his way alone, 
like his master. 

Ward stood up, where he could see the rim of the 
bluff over the ledge of lava rock. He might get a closer 
view and see who was the lookout, and he might be 
seen; for that contingency he kept his fingers close 
to his gun. He heard their scrambling progress. Now 
and then one of the horses sent a little rock bounding 
down into the canyon, whereat the cattle in the corral 
moved restlessly around the small inclosure. 

They came closer, after they had gained the top. 
Ward, leaning against the dull-gray rock before him, 
heard the murmur of their voices. Once he caught 
the unmistakable tones of the man he would like to 
kill. " I '11 keep cases and git him." Plotting against 
some poor devil, as usual, Ward thought, and wondered 



208 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

if the man knew he lived in this part of the country; 
if he did, it might easily be 

" I '11 keep cases some myself, you damned reptile," 
he muttered under his breath. " You won't get me 
again, if that 's what you 've got in mind." 

They went on, and presently Ward was looking at 
their backs as they rode over the ridge. He stood for 
some time staring after them with what Billy Louise 
called his gimlet look. He was breathing shortly from 
the pressure he had put upon his self-control, and he 
was thinking thinking. 

The silence came creeping in on the heels of the 
faint, interrupted sound of their voices. Ward took a 
long breath, discovered that he was gripping his gun 
as though his life depended on hanging to it, and rubbed 
his numbed fingers absently. After a minute or so, 
he mounted and rode down to the corral. 

Five dry cows and two steers snorted at his ap- 
proach and crowded against the farther rails. Ward 
gave Rattler a touch of the spurs, rode close to the 
fence, and stood in his stirrups while he studied the 
bunch. 

" Hell ! " he said, when the inspection was over, and 
dropped back into the saddle while ne gazed unsee- 
ingly at the canyon wall. It was a very real hell 
that his mind saw ; a hell made by men, wherein other 
men must dwell in torment because of their sins or 
the sins of their fellows. 

Seabeck's brand was a big V, a bad brand to own, 
since it favors revision at the hands of the unscrupu- 
lous. These cattle were Seabeck cattle, and their brand 
had been altered. For the right slant of the V had 



' YOU WON'T GET ME AGAIN ' 209 

been extended a little and curled into a 6, so that in time 
the brand would stand casual inspection as a Y6 mono- 
gram Ward's own brand. The work was crude 
purposefully crude. The V had not been reburned 
enough to make it look fresh, and the newly seared 6 
had been added with a malevolent pressure that would 
make it stand out a fresh brand for a long time in 
case of a delay in the proceedings, as Ward knew per- 
fectly well. 

So he sat there and looked over the fence and saw 
himself a convicted " rustler." There was the evidence, 
all ready to damn him utterly before a jury. They 
would be turned loose on the range near his claim, 
and they would be found before the scabs had haired 
over. It was a good time for rustling; round-ups were 
over for the winter, and the weather would confine 
range-riding to absolute necessity. 

Of course, the work was coarse so coarse as to 
reflect against his intelligence; but when brands are 
worked over and the culprit has been caught, the law 
is not too careful to give the prisoner credit for brains. 

Ward stared at the altered brands and wondered 
what he had best do. He bethought him that perhaps 
it would be as well to put a little scenery between him- 
self and that particular locality, and he started back 
up the hill. Once he pulled up as if he would go back, 
but he thought better of it. It was out of the question 
to turn those cattle loose. He could not kill them and 
dispose of the bodies not when there were seven of 
them. He might go down and blotch the brands so 
that they would not read anything at all. He had 
thought of that before and decided against it. That 



210 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

would put those three on their guard and would prob- 
ably not benefit him in the long run. They could work 
the brands on other cattle. 

He hunched forward in the saddle and let Rattler 
choose his own trail up the hill. Though he did not 
know it, trouble had caught Billy Louise in that same 
place, and had sent her forward with drooping shoul- 
ders and a mind so absorbed that she gave no atten- 
tion to her horse; but that is merely a trifling coin- 
cidence. The thing he had to decide was far more com- 
plicated than Billy Louise's problem. 

Should he go straight to Seabeck and tell him what 
he had found out? He did not know Seabeck, except 
as he had met him once or twice on the trail and ex- 
changed trivial greetings and a few words about the 
weather. Besides, Seabeck would very soon find out 

There it stood at his shoulder, grinning at him malevo- 
lently his past. It tied his hands. Buck Olney 
he could deal with single-handed ; for Olney had the fear 
of him that is born of a guilty conscience. He could 
send Buck " over the road " whenever he chose to tell 
some things he knew; he could do it without any com- 
punctions, too. Buck Olney, the stock inspector, de- 
served no mercy at Ward's hands ; and would get none, 
if ever they met where Ward would have a chance at 
him. 

Olney he could deal with, alone. But with the evi- 
dence of those rebranded cattle, and the testimony of 
two men, together with the damning testimony of his 
past! Ward lifted his head and stared heavily at the 
pine slope before him. He could not go to Seabeck 
and tell him anything. In the black hour of that ride, 



YOU WON'T GET ME AGAIN ' 211 

he could not think of anything that he could do that 
would save him. 

And then quite suddenly, in his desperation, he de- 
cided upon something. He laughed hardly, turned 
Rattler back from the homeward trail, and returned to 
the corral in the canyon. " They started this game, 
and they 've put it up to me," he told himself grimly, 
" and they need n't squeal if they burn their own 
fingers." 

He hurried, for he had some work ahead of him, and 
the sun was sliding past the noon mark already. He 
reached the corral and went about what he had to do 
as if he were working for wages and wanted to give 
good measure. 

First, he rebuilt the little fire just outside the corral 
where the cattle could not trample it, but where one 
might thrust a branding iron into its midst from be- 
tween the rails. When it was going properly, he 
searched certain likely hiding-places and found an iron 
still warm from previous service. He thrust it in to 
heat, 4ed Rattler into the corral, and closed the gate 
securely behind him. Then he mounted, took down 
his rope and widened the loop, while his angry eyes 
singled out the animal he wanted first. 

Ward was not an adept with a " running iron " ; he 
was honest, whatever men might say of him. But he 
know how to tie down an animal, and he sacrificed 
part of his lariat to get the short rope he needed to 
tip their feet together. He worked fast no telling 
what minute someone might come and catch him 
and he did his work well, far better and neater than 
had his predecessors. 



212 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

When he left that corral, he smiled. Before he 
had ridden very far up the bluff, he stopped, looked 
down at the long-suffering cattle, and smiled again sar- 
donically. One could read their brands easily from 
where he sat on his horse. They were not blotched; 
they were very distinct. But they were not Y6s within 
that corral. There were other brands which might 
be made of a Y6 monogram, by the judicious addition 
of a mark here and a mark there. 

" There, damn yuh : chew on that awhile ! " he apos- 
trophized the absent three. He turned away and rode 
back once more toward home. 

Kattler turned naturally into the trail which ran 
up the creek to the ranch, but Ward immediately turned 
him out of it. " We are n't going to overlook any bets, 
old-timer," he said grimly and crossed the creek at a 
point where it was too rocky to leave any hoof-prints 
behind them. He rode up the lower point of the ridge 
beyond and followed the crest of it on the side away 
from the valley. When he reached a point nearly op- 
posite his cabin, he dismounted, unbuckled his spurs, 
and slipped their chains over the saddle-horn. Then 
he went forward afoot to reconnoitre. He was careful 
to avoid rock or gravelly patches and to walk always 
on the soft grass which muffled his steps. 

In. this wise he made his way to the top of the ridge, 
where he could look down upon the cabin and stable 
and corrals and see also the creek trail for a good 
quarter of a mile. The little valley lay quiet. His 
team fed undisturbed by the creek not far from the 
corral, which reassured Ward more than anything. 
Still, he waited until he had made reasonably sure 



' YOU WON'T GET ME AGAIN ' 213 

that the bluff held no watcher concealed before he went 
back to where Rattler waited patiently. 

" I guess they did n't plan to stir things up till they 
got those critters planted where they wanted them," 
he mused, while he rode down the bluff to his cabin. 
" But when they visit that bunch of stock again, I 
reckon things will begin to tighten ! " 

He was wary of exposing himself too much to view 
from the bluff while he did his chores that night, and 
he kept Rattler in the stable. Also, he slept very 
little, and before daybreak he was up and away. He 
had a rolled army blanket tied behind the saddle, a 
sack of grub and a frying-pan and a bucket for coffee. 
But he did not go any farther than the wolf-den, and he 
spent a couple of hours removing as well as he could 
any suspicious traces of having dug anything more 
than wolf pups from the bank on the ledge. 



CHAPTER XVI 



GOING TO TAKE YOU OUT AND HANG YOU " 



TTTF. trouble with a man like Buck Olney is that 
you can never be sure of his method, except that 
it will be underhand and calculated to eliminate as 
much as possible any risk to himself. Ward, casting 
back into his memory he had known Buck Olney 
very well, once upon a time, and in his unsuspecting 
youth had counted him a friend tried to guess how 
Buck would proceed when he went down to that corral 
and found how those brands had been retouched. 

" He '11 be running around in circles for awhile, all 
right," he deduced with an air of certainty. " Blotched 
brands he 'd know was my work ; and he could have 
put it on me, too, with a good yarn about trailing me 
so close I got cold feet. As it is " Ward smoked 
two cigarettes and scowled at the scenery. As it was, 
he did not know just what Buck Olney would do, ex- 
cept " If he makes a guess I did that, he '11 know 
I 'm wise to the whole plant. And he '11 get me, sure, 
providing I stand with my back to him long enough ! " 
Ward had his back to a high ledge, at that moment, 
so that he did not experience any impulse to look 
behind him. 

" Buck don't want to drag me up before a jury," 
he reasoned further. " He 'd a heap rather pack me 



" I 'M GOI^G TO TAKE YOU ' 215 

in all wrapped up in a tarp, and say how he 'd canght 
me with the goods, and I resisted arrest." 

The assurance he felt as to what Buck Olney would 
do did not particularly frighten Ward, even if he did 
neglect to go to bed in his cabin during the next few 
days. That was common sense, born of his knowledge 
of the man he was dealing with. He went to the cabin 
warily, just often enough to give it an air of occupancy. 
He frequently sat upon some hilltop and watched a lazy 
thread of smoke weave upward from his rusty stovepipe, 
but he slept out under the stars rolled in his heavy 
blanket, and he never crossed a ridge if he could make 
his way through a hollow. It is not always cowardice 
which makes a man extremely careful not to fall into 
the hands of his enemy. There is a small matter of 
pride involved. Ward would have died almost any 
death rather than give Buck Olney the satisfaction 
of " getting " him. For a few days he was cautious as 
an Indian on the war trail, and then his patience fraz- 
zled out under the strain. 

At sunrise one morning, after a night of shivering 
in his blanket, he hunched his shoulders in disgust of 
his caution. If Buck Olney wanted anything of him, 
he was certainly taking his time about coming after 
it. Ward rubbed his fingers over his stubbly jaw, 
and the uncomfortable prickling was the last small de- 
tail of discomfort that decided him. He was going 
to have a shave and a decent cup of coffee and eat off 
his own table, or know the reason why, he promised 
himself while he slapped the saddle on Rattler. 

He was camped in a sheltered little hollow in the 
hills, where the grass was good and there was a spring. 



216 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

It was a mile and more to his claim, straight across 
the upland, and it was his habit to leave Rattler there 
and walk over to the ridge, where he could watch his 
claim; frequently, as I have said, he stole down be- 
fore daylight and lighted a fire in the stove, just to 
make it look as if he lived there. There was a risk 
in that, of course, granting that the stock inspector 
was the kind to lie in wait for him. 

Ward rode to the ridge, with his blanket rolled and 
tied behind the cantle. His frying-pan hung behind 
his leg, and his rifle lay across the saddle in front of 
him. He was going home boldly enough and recklessly 
enough, but he was by no means disposed to walk de- 
liberately into a trap. He kept his eye peeled, as he 
would have expressed it. Also, he left Rattler just 
under the crest of the ridge, took off his spurs, and 
with his rifle in his hands went forward afoot, as he 
had done every time he had approached his cabin since 
the day he found the corral and the cattle in the 
canyon. 

In this wise he looked down the steep slope with the 
sun throwing the shadow of his head and shoulders be- 
fore him. The cabin window blinked cheerfully in 
the sunlight. His span of mares were coming up from 
the meadow in the faint hope of getting a break- 
fast of oats, perhaps. The place looked peaceful enough 
and cozily desirable to a man who has slept out for 
four nights late in the fall ; but a glance was all Ward 
gave to it. 

His eyes searched the bluff below him and upon either 
side. Of a sudden they sharpened. He brought his 
rifle forward with an involuntary motion of the arms. 



" I 'M GOING TO TAKE YOU ' 217 

He stood so for a breath or two, looking down the hill. 
Then he went forward stealthily, on his toes ; swiftly, 
too, so that presently he was close enough to see the car- 
buncle scar on the neck of the man crouched behind 
a rock and watching the cabin as a cat watches a* mouse- 
hole. A rifle lay across the rock before the man, the 
muzzle pointing downward. At that distance, and from 
a dead rest, it would be strange if he should miss any 
object he shot at. He had what gamblers call a cinch, 
or he would have had, if the man he watched for had not 
been standing directly behind him, with rifle-sights in 
a line with the scar on the back of his thick neck. 

" Throw up your hands ! " Ward called sharply, 
when his first flare of rage had cooled to steady 
purpose. 

Buck Olney jumped as though a yellow-jacket had 
stung him. He turned a startled face over his shoul- 
der and jerked the rifle up from the rock. Ward raised 
his sights a little and plugged a round, black-rimmed 
hole through Buck's hat crown. 

" Throw up your hands, I told you ! " he said, while 
the hills opposite were still flinging back the sound of 
the shot, and came closer. 

Buck grunted an oath, dropped the rifle so suddenly 
that it clattered on the rock, and lifted his hands high 
in the quiet sunlight. 

. " Get up from there and go on down to the shack 
and keep your hands up. And remember all the rea- 
sons I 've got for wanting to see you make a crooked 
move, so I '11 have an excuse to shoot." Ward came 
still closer as he spoke. He was wishing he had 
brought his rope along. He did not feel quite easy in 



218 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

his mind while Buck Olney's hands were free. He 
kept thinking of what Billy Louise had said to him 
about shooting this man, and it was the first time 
since he had known her that he disliked the thought of 
her. 

Buck got up awkwardly and went stumbling down 
the steep slope, with his hands trembling in the air 
upon either side of his head. From their nervous quiv- 
ering it was evident that hi^s memory was good, and 
that it was working upon the subject which Ward had 
suggested to him. He did not give Ward the weakest 
imitation of an excuse to shoot. And so the two of 
them came presently down upon the level and passed 
around the cabin to the door, with no more than ten 
feet of space between them so inexorably had Ward 
crowded close upon the other's stumbling progress. 

" Hold on a minute ! " 

Buck stopped as still as though he had gone against 
a rock wall. 

Ward came closer, and Buck flinched away from 
the feel of the rifle muzzle between his shoulder blades. 
Ward reached out a cautious hand and pulled the six- 
shooter from its scabbard at Buck's right hip. 

" Got a knife ? You always used to go heeled with 
one. Speak up and don't lie about it." 

" Inside my coat," grunted Buck, and Ward's lip 
curled while he reached around the man's bulky body 
and found the knife in its leather sheath. Evidently 
Buck was still remembering with disquieting exactness 
what reasons Ward might have for wanting to kill 
him. 

" Take down your left hand and open the door." 



" I 'M GOING TO TAKE YOU ' 219 

Buck did so and put his hand up again without 
being told. 

" Now go in and stand with your face to the wall." 
With the rifle muzzle, Ward indicated which wall. He 
noticed how Buck's fingers groped and trembled against 
the wall, just under the eaves, and his lip curled again 
in the expression which Billy Louise so hated to see. 

Ward had chosen the spot where he could reach easily 
a small coil of rope. He kept the rifle pressing Buck's 
shoulders until he had shifted the knife into one hand, 
leaned, and laid its blade against Buck's cheek. 

" Feel that ? I '11 jab it clear through you if you 
give me a chance. Drop your hands down behind you." 
He spent a busy minute with the rope before he pushed 
Buck Olney roughly toward a chair. 

Buck sat down, and Ward did a little more rope- 
work. 

" Say, Ward, you 're making a big mistake if you " 

" Shut up ! " snapped Ward. " Can't you see I 'm 
standing all I can stand, just with the sight of you? 
Don't pile it on too thick by letting me hear you talk. 
I heard you once too often as it is." 

Buck Olney caught his breath and sat very still. His 
eyes followed Ward as the eyes of a caged animal fol- 
low its keeper. 

Ward tried to ignore his presence completely while 
he lighted a fire and fried bacon and made coffee, but 
the hard set of his jaw and the cold intentness of his 
eyes proved how conscious he was of Buck's presence. 
He tried to eat just to show how calm he was, but the 
bread and bacon choked him. He could feel every 
nerve in his body quiver with the hatred he felt for 



220 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

the man, and the bitterness which the sight of him 
called up out of the past. He drank four cups of cof- 
fee, black and sweetened at random, which steadied 
him a little. That he did not offer Buck food or drink 
showed how intense was his hatred; as a rule, your 
true range man is hospitable even to his enemies. 

He rose and inspected the ropes to make sure that 
they were proof against twisting, straining muscles, 
and took an extra turn or two with the loose end, just 
to make doubly sure of the man's helplessness. 

" Where did you leave your horse ? " he asked him 
curtly, when he was through. 

Buck told him, his eyes searching Ward's face for 
mercy or at least for some clew to his fate and 
dulling with disappointment because he could read 
nothing there but loathing. 

Without speaking again, Ward went out and closed 
the door firmly behind him. He felt relieved to be 
away from Buck's presence. As he climbed the bluff 
and mentally relived the last hour, he wondered how he 
had kept from shooting Buck as soon as he saw him. 
Still, that would have defeated his main*purpose, which 
was to make Buck suffer. He was afraid he could not 
make Buck suffer as Buck had made him suffer, because 
there were obstacles in the path of a perfect retribution. 

Ward was not cruel by nature; at least he was not 
more cruel than the rest of us; but as he went after 
Rattler and Buck's horse, it pleased him to know that 
Buck Olney was tied hand and foot in his cabin, and 
that he was sick with dread of what the future held 
for him. 

Ward was gone an hour. He did not hurry; there 



" I 'M GOING TO TAKE YOU ' 221 

was no need. Buck could not get away, and a little 
suspense would do him good. 

Buck's face was pasty when Ward opened the door. 
His eyes were a bit glassy. And from the congested 
appearance of his hands, Ward judged that" he had 
tested to the full his helplessness in his bonds. Ward 
looked at him a minute and got out the makings of a 
smoke. His mood had changed in his absence. He 
no longer wanted absolute silence between them; in- 
stead, he showed symptoms of wanting to talk. 

" If I turn you loose, Buck, what will you do ? " he 
asked at last, in a curious tone. 

" If you Ward, I '11 prove I 'm a friend to yuh in 
spite of the idea you 've got that I ain't. I never done 
nothing " 

" No, of course not." Ward's lip curled. " That 
was my mistake, maybe. You always used to say you 
were my friend, when " 

" And that 'a the God's truth, Ward ! " Buck's face 
was becoming flushed with his eagerness. " I done 
everything I could for you, Ward, but the way the 
cards laid I could n't " 

" Get me hanged. I know ; you sure tried hard 
enough ! " Ward puffed hard at his cigarette, and the 
lips that held it trembled a little. Otherwise he seemed 
perfectly cool and calm. 

" Say, Ward, them lawyers lied to you." 

" Oh, cut it out, Buck. I 've seen you wriggle 
through a snake-hole before. I believe you 're my 
friend, just the way you 've always been." 

" That 's right, Ward, and I can prove it." 

Ward snorted. " You proved it, old-timer, when you 



222 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

laid up there behind a rock with your sights on this 
shack, ready to get me when I came out. I sabe now 
how it happened Jim McGuire was found face down 
in the spring behind his shack, with a bullet hole in 
his back, that time. You were his friend, too ! " 

"Ward, I " 

" Shut up. I just wanted to see if you 'd changed 
any in the last seven years. You have n't, unless it 's 
for the worse. You 've got to the end of the trail, 
old-timer. When you went laying for me, you fixed 
yourself a-plenty. Do you want to know what I 'm 
going to do to you ? " 

" Ward, you would n't dare shoot me ! With the 
record you 've got, you would n't stand " 

" Who gave it to me, huh ? Oh, I heap sabe ; you 've 
left word with your pardners that you were coming up 
here to arrest me single-handed. They will give the 
alarm, if you don't show up ; and I '11 go on the dodge 
and get caught and " Ward threw away his cigarette 
and took a step toward his captive; a step so ominous 
that Buck squirmed in his bonds. 

" Well, you can rest easy on one point. I 'm not 
going to shoot you." Ward stood still and watched the 
light of hope flare in the eyes of his enemy. " I 'm 
going to wash the dishes and take a shave and then 
I 'm going to take you out somewhere and hang you." 

" My God, Ward! You you " 

" I told you, seven years ago," went on Ward stead- 
ily, " that I 'd see you hung before I was through with 
you. Kemember? By rights you ought to hang by 
the heels, over a slow fire ! You 're about as low a 
specimen of humanity as I ever saw or heard of. You 



" I 'M GOING TO TAKE YOU " 223 

know what you did for me, Buck. And you know what 
I told you would happen ; well, it 's going to come off 
according to the programme. 

" I did think of running you in and giving you a 
taste of hell yourself. But, as usual, you 've gone and 
tangled up a couple of fellows that never dicf me any 
particular harm and I don't want to hand them any- 
thing if I can help it. So I '11 just string you up 
after awhile, when I get around to it and leave a 
note saying who you are, and that you 're the head push 
in this rustling business-, and that you helped spend 
the money that Hardup bank lost awhile back; and 
that you 're one of the gazabos " 

" You can't prove it ! You " 

" I don't have to prove it. The authorities will do 
all that when they get the tip I '11 give them. And 
you, being hung up on a limb somewhere, can't very 
well give your pardners the double-cross ; so they '11 
have a fighting chance to make their getaway. 

" Xow, I 'm through talking to you. What I say 
goes. You can talk if you want to, Buck ; but I 'm 
going to carve a steak out of you every time you open 
your mouth." He pulled Buck's own knife out of its 
sheath and laid it convenient to his hand, and he looked 
as if he would do any cruel thing he threatened. 

He relighted the fire, which had gone out long ago, 
and set the dish-pan on the stove with water to heat. 
He remade his bunk, spreading on the army blanket 
which he to#k from the saddle on Rattler. He swept 
the floor as neatly as any woman could have done it 
and laid the two wolf-skins down in their places where 
they did duty as rugs. He washed and wiped his few 



224 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

dishes, keeping Buck's knife always within reach and 
sending an inquiring glance toward Buck whenever that 
unhappy man made the slightest movement, though 
truth to tell, Buck did not make many. He brought 
two pails of water and set them on the bench inside, 
and in the meantime he had cooked a mess of prunes 
and set them in. a bowl on the window-sill beside his 
bunk, where the air was coolest. He stropped his razor 
painstakingly and shaved himself in leisurely fashion 
and sent an occasional glance toward his prisoner from 
the looking-glass, which made Buck swallow hard at 
his Adam's apple. 

And Buck, during all this time, never once opened 
his lips, except to lick his tongue across them, and never 
once took his eyes off Ward. 

" I 've sure put the fear of the Lord into you, have n't 
I, Buck ? " Ward observed maliciously, wiping a blob 
of hairy lather upon a page torn from an old Sears- 
Roebuck catalogue. " I was kinda hoping you had 
more nerve. I wanted to get a whack at you, just to 
prove I 'm not joshing." 

Buck swallowed again, but he made no reply. 

Ward washed his face in a basin of steaming water, 
got a can of talcum out of the dish cupboard, and took 
the soap-shine off his cheeks and chin. He combed his 
hair before the little mirror trying unavailingly to 
take the wave out of it with water, and leaving it more 
crinkly over his temples than it had been in the first 
place and retied the four-in-hand under the soft 
collar of his shirt. 

" I wish you 'd talk, Buck," he said, turning toward 
the other. He looked very boyish and almost hand- 



" I 'M GOING TO TAKE YOU " 225 

some, except for the expression of his eyes, which gave 
Buck the shivers, and the set of his lips, which was 
cruel. " I've read how the Chinks hand out what they 
call the death-of-a-thousand-cuts ; I was thinking I 'd 
like to try it out on you. But oh, well, this is Fri- 
day. It may as well go as a hanging." He made a 
poor job of his calm irony, but Buck was not in the 
mental condition to be critical. 

The main facts were sufficiently ominous to offset 
Ward's attempt at facetiousness. Indeed, the very 
weakness of the attempt was in itself ominous. Ward 
might try to be coldly malevolent, but the light that 
burned in his eyes, and the rage that tightened his lips, 
gave the lie to his forced composure. 

He went out and led up the horses to the door. He 
came back and started to untie Buck Olney's feet, 
then bethought him of the statement he had promised 
to write. He got a magazine and tore out the fron- 
tispiece which, oddly enough, was a somber picture 
of Death hovering with outstretched wings over a bat- 
tlefield and wrote several lines in pencil on the back 
of it, where the paper was smooth and white. 

" How 's that ? " he asked, holding up the paper so 
that Buck could read what he had written. " I ain't 
in the mood to sit down and write a whole book, so 
I had to boil down your pedigree. But that will do the 
business all right, don't you think ? " 

Buck read with staring eyes, looked into Ward's face, 
and opened his lips for protest or pleading. Then he 
followed Ward's glance to the knife on the table and 
shut his mouth with a snap. Ward laughed grimly, 
picked up the knife, and ran his thumb lightly over 



226 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

the edge to test its keenness. " Put a fresh edge on 
it for me, huh ? " he commented. " Well, we may as 
well get started, I reckon. I 'm getting almighty sick 
of seeing you around." 

He loosened the rope that bound Buck to the chair 
and stood scowling down at him, drawing in a corner 
of his lip and biting it thoughtfully. Then he took his 
revolver and held it in his left hand, while with his 
right he undid the rope which bound Buck's hands. 

" Stick your hands out in front of you," he com- 
manded. " You '11 have to ride a ways ; there is n't any 
gallows tree in walking distance." 

" For God's sake, Ward ! " Buck's voice was hoarse. 
The plea came out of its own accord. He held his 
hands before him, however, and he made no attempt 
to get out of the chair. He knew Ward could shoot 
all right with his left hand, you see. He had watched 
him practice on tin cans, long ago when the two were 
friends. 

" You know what I told you," Ward reminded him 
grimly and took up the knife with a deadly air that 
made the other suck in his breath. " Hold still ! I 'm 
liable to cut your throat if I make a mislick." 

Really, it was the way he did it that made it ter- 
rible. The thing itself was nothing. He merely drew 
the back of the blade down alongside Buck's ear, and 
permitted the point to scratch through the skin barely 
enough to let out a thin trickle of blood. A pin would 
have hurt worse. But Buck groaned and believed he 
had lost an ear. He breathed in gasps, but did not say 
a word. 

" Go ahead ; talk all you want to, Buck," Ward in- 



' I 'M GOING TO TAKE YOU " 227 

vited, and wiped the knife-blade on Buck's shoulder 
before he returned the weapon to its sheath in his 
inside coat pocket. 

Buck flinched from the touch and set his teeth. 

Ward tied his hands before him and told him to get 
up and go out to his horse. Buck obeyed with abject 
submissiveness, and Ward's lip curled again as he 
walked behind him to the door. He had not the slight- 
est twinge of pity for the man. He was gloatingly glad 
that he could make him suffer, and he inwardly cursed 
his own humanity for being so merciful. He ought 
to have cut Buck's ear off slick and clean instead of 
making a bluff at it, he told himself disgustedly. Buck 
deserved it and more. 

He helped Buck into the saddle, took the short rope 
in his hands, and hobbled Buck's feet under the horse, 
grasped the bridle-reins, and mounted Rattler. With- 
out a word he set off up the rough trail toward Hardup, 
leading Buck's horse behind him. 



CHAPTEK XVII 

* SO-I/ONG, BUCK ! " 



want to tel1 

you need n't jolly yourself into thinking your 
death will be avenged. It won't. You noticed what 
I wrote ; and there is n't a scrap of my writing any- 
where in the country to catch me up " Ward's 
thoughts went to Billy Louise, who had some very good 
samples, and he stopped suddenly. He was trying 
not to think of Billj Louise, to-day. " Also, when 
somebody happens to ride this way and sees you, I 
won't be anywhen* around." 

" This is the tree/' he added, stopping under a cot- 
tonwood that flung a big branch out over the narrow 
cow-trail they were traveling. " The chances are friend 
Floyd will be ambling around this way in a day or 
two," he said hearteningly. " He can tend to the last 
sad rites and take charge of your horse. He 's liable 
to be sore when he reads your pedigree, but I don't 
reckon that will mak a great deal of difference. You '11 
get buried, all right, Buck." 

Ward dismounted with a most businesslike man- 
ner and untied Buck Olney's rope from the saddle. " I 
can't spare mine," he explained laconically. He had 
some trouble in fashioning a hangman's noose. He had 
not had muck practice, he remarked to Buck after the 
first attempt 



" SO-LONG, BUCK! " 229 

" How do you do it, Buck t You know more about 
these things than I do," he taunted. " You 've helped 
hang lots of poor devils that will be glad to meet yuh 
in hell to-day." 

Buck Olney moistened his dry lips. Ward glanced 
at his face and looked quickly away. Staring, abject 
terror is not nice to look upon, even though the man 
is your worst enemy and is suffering justly for his 
sins. Ward's fingers fumbled the rope as though his 
determination were weakening. Then he remembered 
some things, hunched his shoulders, impatient of the 
merciful impulse, and began the knot again. An old 
prospector had shown him once how it was done. 

" Of course, a plain slip-knot would do the business 
all right," he said. " But I '11 try and give you the 
genuine thing, same as you gave the other fellows." 

" Ward, for God's sake, let me go ! " 

Ward started. He did not know that a man's voica 
could change so much in so short a time. He never 
would have recognized the tones as coming from Buck 
Olney's loose, complacent lips. 

" Ward, I '11 never I 'H leare the country I '11 
go to South America, or Australia, or " 

" You '11 go to hell, Buck," Ward cut in inexorably. 
" You 've got your ticket." 

" I '11 own up to everything. 1 11 tell you where 
some of the money's cached we got in that Hardup deal, 
Ward. There 's enough to put you Easy Street. I '11 
tell you who helped " 

"You'd better not," advised Ward harshly, "or 
I '11 make hanging a relief to you. I know pretty 
well, right now, all you could tell. And if I wanted 



230 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

to send your pardners up, I would n't need your help. 
It 's partly to give them a chance that I 'm sending you 
out this way, myself. I don't call this murder, Buck. 
I 'm saving the State a lot of time and trouble, that 's 
all ; and your pardners the black eye they 'd get for 
throwing in with you. I heap sabe who was the head 
push. You got them in to take whatever dropped, so 
you could get off slick and clean, just as you 've done 
before, you you " 

Buck Olney got it then, hot from the fires of Ward's 
wrath. A man does not brood over treachery and wrong 
and a blackened future for years, without storing up 
a good many things that he means to say to the friend 
who has played him false. Ward had been a happy-go- 
lucky young fellow who had faith in men and in him- 
self and in his future. He had lived through black, 
hopeless days and weeks and months, because of this 
man who tried now to buy mercy with the faith of his 
partners. 

Ward stood up and let the rope trail forgotten from 
his hands while he told Buck Olney all the things he 
had brooded over in bitterness. He had meant to keep 
it all down, but it was another instance of bottled emo- 
tions, and Buck, with his offer of a fresh bit of treach- 
ery, had pulled the cork. Ward trembled a little while 
he talked, and his face grew paler and paler as he 
dug deep into the blackest part of the past, until when 
he finished he was a tanned white. He was shaking at 
the last; shaking so that he staggered to the tree and 
leaned against it weakly, while he fumbled for tobacco 
and papers. 

In the saddle Buck sat all hunched together as if 



" SO-LONG, BUCK! " 231 

Ward had lashed him with rawhide instead of with 
stinging words. The muscles of his face twitched spas- 
modically. His eyes were growing bloodshot. 

Ward spilled two papers of tobacco before he got a 
cigarette rolled and lighted. He wondered a little at 
the physical reaction from his outburst, but he won- 
dered more at Buck Olney sitting alive and unhurt on 
the horse before him a Seabeck horse which Ward 
had seen Floyd Carson riding once or twice. He won- 
dered what Floyd would do if he saw Buck now and 
the use to which the horse was being put. 

Ward finished the cigarette, rolled another, and 
smoked that also before he could put his hand out 
before him and hold it reasonably steady. When he 
felt fairly sure of himself again, he lifted his hat to 
wipe off the sweat of his anger, gave a big sigh, and 
returned to the tying of the hangman's noose. 

When he finally had it fixed the way he wanted it, 
he went close and flung the noose over Buck Olney's 
head. He could not trust himself to speak just then. 
He cast an inquiring glance upward, took Buck's horse 
by the bridle, and led him forward a few steps so that 
Buck was directly under the overhanging limb. Then, 
with the coil of Buck's rope in his hand, he turned back 
and squirmed up the tree-trunk until he had reached 
the limb. He crawled out until he was over Buck's 
bullet-punctured hat-crown, sliced off what rope he 
did not need, and flung it to the ground. He saw Buck 
wince as the rope went past him. The pinto horse shied 
out of position. 

" Take the reins and bring him back here ! " Ward 
called shortly, and gave a twitch of the rope as a hint. 



232 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Mechanically Buck obeyed. He did not know that 
the rope was not yet tied to the limb. 

Ward tied the rope securely, leaving enough slack 
to keep Buck from choking prematurely. He fussed a 
minute longer, with his lip curled into a grin of sar- 
donic humor. Then he crawled back to the trunk of 
the tree and slid down carefully so that he would not 
frighten the pinto. 

He went up and took the hobble off Buck Olney's 
feet, felt in the seam of his coat-lapel, and pulled out 
four pins, with which he fastened Buck's " pedigree " 
between Buck's shrinking shoulder-blades. Then he 
stood off and surveyed his work critically before he 
went over to Rattler, who stood dozing in the sun- 
shine. 

" Sorry I can't stay to see you off," he told Buck 
maliciously. " I 're decided to let you go alone and 
take your own time about starting. As long as that 
cayuse stands where he is, you 're safe as a church. 
And you 've got the reins ; you can kick off any time 
you feel like it. Sabe ? " He studied Buck's horror- 
marked face pitilessly. 

" You 've got about one chance in a million that you 
can make that pinto stand there till someone comes 
along," he pointed out impartially. " I 'm willing to 
give you that chance, such as it is. And if you 're lucky 
enough to win out on it well, I 'd advise you to do 
some going ! South America is about as close as you '11 
be safe. Folks around here are going to know all about 
you, old-timer, whether they get to read what 's on your 
back or not. 

" And, on the other hand, it 's a million-to-one shot 



" SO-LONG, BUCK! " 233 

you '11 land where your ticket reads. I 'd hate to gam- 
ble on that horse standing in one spot for two or three 
days, would n't you ? " He wheeled Rattler unob- 
trusively, his eye on the pinto. " I hope he doji't try 
to follow," he said. " I want you to have a little time 
to think about the things I said to you. Well, so-long." 

Ward rode back the way he had come, glancing fre- 
quently over his shoulder at Buck, slumped in the sad- 
dle with a paper pinned to his back like a fire-warning 
on a tree, and his own grass rope noosed about his neck 
and connecting him with the cottonwood limb six feet 
above his hat crown. 

Ward had not ridden a hundred yards before he 
heard Buck Olney scream hysterically for help. He 
grinned sourly with his eyebrows pinched together and 
that hard, strained look in his eyes still. " Let him 
holler awhile ! " he gritted. " Do him good, damn 
him ! " 

TJntil distance and the intervening hills set a wall 
of silence between, Ward heard Buck screaming in fear 
of death, screaming until he was so hoarse he could 
only whisper ; screaming because he had not seen Ward 
take his knife and slice the rope upon the limb so that 
it would not have held the weight of a rabbit. 



s 
CHAPTER XVIH 

FORTUNE KICKS AGAIN 

IT was past noon when Ward rode down the steep 
slope to the creek bank just above his cabin. He 
was sunk deep in that mental depression which so often 
follows close upon the heels of a great outburst of pas- 
sion. Mechanically he twitched the reins and sent Rat- 
tler down the last shelf of bank and he did not look 
up to see just where he was. Rattler was a well-trained 
horse, since he was Ward's. He obeyed the rein signal 
and stepped off a two-foot bank into a nest of loose- 
piled rocks that slid treacherously under his feet. Sure- 
footed though he was, he stumbled and fell ; and it was 
sheer instinct that took Ward's feet from the stirrups 
in time. 

Ward sprawled among the rocks, dazed. The shock 
of the fall took him out of his fit of abstraction, and 
he pulled away from Rattler as the horse scrambled up 
and stood shaking before him. He tried to scramble up 
also. .- . . 

Ward sat and stared stupidly at his left leg where, 
midway between his knee and his foot, it turned out at 
an unnatural angle. He thought resentfully that he 
had had enough trouble for once, without having a 
broken leg on top of it all. 

" Now this is one hell of a fix !" he stated dispas- 



FORTUNE KICKS AGAIN 235 

sionately, when pain had in a measure cooled his first 
anger. He looked around him like a man who is taking 
stock of his resources. He was not far from the cabin. 
He could get there by crawling. But what then? 

Ward looked at Rattler, standing docilely within 
reach of his hand. He considered getting on if he 
could, and riding well, the nearest place was fifteen 
miles. And that was a good, long way from a doctor. 
He glanced again at the cabin and tried to study .the 
situation impersonally. If it were some other fellow, 
now, what would Ward advise him to do under the 
circumstances ? 

He reached down and felt his leg gingerly. So far 
as he could tell, it was a straight, simple break 
snapped short off against a rock, he judged. He shook 
his head over the thought of riding fifteen miles with 
those broken bones grinding their edges together. And 
still, what else could he do? 

He reached out, took the reins, and led Rattler a step 
nearer, so that he could grasp the stirrup. With his 
voice he held the horse quiet while he pulled himself up- 
right upon his good leg. Then, with pain-hurried, 
jerky movements, he pulled off the saddle, glanced 
around him, and flung it behind a buck-brush. He 
slipped off the bridle, flung that after the saddle, and 
gave Rattler a slap on the rump. The horse moved 
away, and Ward stared after him with set lips. " Any- 
way, you can look after yourself," he said and bal- 
anced upon his right leg while he swung around and 
faced the cabin. It was not far to a man with two 
sound legs. A hundred yards, perhaps. 

Ward crawled there on his hands and one knee, drag- 



236 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

ging the broken leg after him. It was not a nice ex- 
perience, but it served one good purpose: It wiped 
from his mind all thought of that black past wherein 
Buck had figured so shamefully. He had enough to 
think of with his present plight, without worrying over 
the past. 

In half an hour or so Ward rested his arms upon 
his own doorstep and dropped his perspiring face upon 
them. He lay there a long while, in a dead faint. 

After awhile he moved, lifted his head, and looked 
about him dully at first and then with a certain stoical 
acceptance of his plight. He looked into the immediate 
future and tried to forecast its demands upon his 
strength and to prepare for them. He crawled farther 
up on the step, reached the latch, and opened the door. 
He crawled in, pulled himself up by the foot of his 
bunk, and sat down weakly with his head in his hands. 
Like a hurt animal, he had obeyed his instinct and had 
crawled home. What next? 

If Ward had been a weaker man, he would have 
answered that question speedily with his gun. He did 
think of it contemptuously as an easy way out. If he 
had never met Billy Louise, he might possibly have 
chosen that way. But Ward had changed much in 
the past two years, and at the worst he had never been 
a coward. His hurt was sending waves of nausea over 
him, so that he could not concentrate his mind upon 
anything. Then he thought of the bottle of whisky 
he kept in his bunk for emergencies. Ward was not 
a man who drank for pleasure, but he had the Western 
man's faith in a good jolt of whisky when he felt a cold 
coming on or a pain in his stomach or anything like 



FORTUNE KICKS AGAIN 237 

that. He always kept a bottle on hand. A quart lasted 
him a long time. 

He felt along the footboard of the bunk till his fin- 
gers touched the bottle, drew it out from its hiding- 
place he hid it because stray callers would have made 
short work of it and, placing the uncorked bottle to 
his trembling lips, swallowed twice. 

He was steadier now, and the sickness left him like 
fog before a stiff breeze. His eyes went slowly around 
the cabin, measuring his resources, and his needs and 
limitations. He pulled his one chair toward him the 
chair which Buck Olney had occupied so unwillingly 
and placed his left knee upon it. It hurt terribly, but 
the whisky had steadied him so that he could bear 
the pain. He managed to reach the cupboard where 
he kept his dishes, and took down a bottle of liniment 
and a box of carbolized vaseline which he happened 
to have. He was near the two big, zinc water pails 
which he had filled that morning just to show Buck 
Olney how cool he was over his capture, and he be- 
thought him that water was going to be precious in 
the next few weeks. 

He lifted down one pail and swung it forward as 
far as he could, and set it on the floor ahead of him. 
Then he swung the other pail beside it. Painfully he 
hitched his chair alongside, lifted the pails and set 
them forward again. He did that twice and got them 
beside his bunk. He went back and inspected the tea- 
kettle, found it half full, and carried that also beside 
the bunk. Then he took another drink of whisky and 
rested awhile. 

Bandages! Well, there was a new flour-sack hang- 



238 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

ing on a nail. He stood up, leaned and got it, and while 
he was standing, he reached for the cigar-box where 
he kept his bachelor sewing outfit; two spools of very 
coarse thread, some large-eyed needles to carry it, an 
assortment of buttons, and a pair of scissors. He cut 
the flour-sack into strips and sewed the strips together ; 
his stitches were neater than you might think. 

When the bandage was long enough, he rolled it as 
he had seen doctors do, and fished some pins out of 
the cigar-box and laid them where he could get his 
fingers on them quickly. He stood up again, reached 
across to a box of canned milk, and pried off the lid. 
" I 'm liable to need you, too," he muttered to the rows 
of cans, and pulled the box close. He took Buck 
Olney's knife and whittled some very creditable splints 
from the thin boards, and rummaged in his " warbag " 
under the bunk for handkerchiefs with which to wrap 
the splints. 

When he had done all that he could do to prepare 
for the long siege of pain and helplessness ahead of 
him, he moved along the bunk until he was sitting near 
the head of it with his broken leg extended before him, 
and took a last look to make sure that everything was 
ready. He felt nis gun at his hip, removed belt and 
all, and threw it back upon the bed. Then he turned 
his head and stared, frowning, at the black butt where 
it protruded from the holster suggestively ready to his 
hand. He reached out and took the gun, turned it 
over, and hesitated. !N~o telling what insane impulse 
fever might bring upon him and still no telling 
what Buck Olney might do when he discovered that 
he was not in any immediate danger of hanging. 



FORTUNE KICKS AGAIN 239 

If Buck came back to have it out with him, he 
would certainly need that gun. He knew Buck; a 
broken leg would n't save him. On the other hand, 
if the fever of his hurt hit him hard enough " Oh, 
fiddlesticks! " he told himself at last. " If I -get crazy 
enough for that, the gun won't cut much ice one way 
or the other. There are other ways of bumping off - 
So he tucked the gun under the mattress at the head 
of his bed where he could put his hand upon it if the 
need came. 

Then he removed his boots by the simple method of 
slitting the legs with Buck's knife, bared his broken 
leg in the same manner, swallowed again from the bot- 
tle, braced himself mentally and physically, gritted 
his teeth, and went doggedly to work. 

A man never knows just how much he can endure 
or what he can do until he is making his last stand 
in the fight for self-preservation. Ward had no mind 
to lie there and die of blood-poisoning, for instance; 
and broken bones do not set themselves. So, sweating 
and swearing with the agony of it, he set his leg and 
bound the splints in place, and thanked the Lord it 
was a straight, clean break and that the flesh was not 
torn. 

Then he dropped back upon the bed and did n't care 
whether he lived or not. 

Followed days of fever, - through which Ward lived 
crazily and lost count of the hours as they passed. 
Days when he needed good nursing, and did not get 
so much as a drink of water, except through pain and 
effort. Hours when he cursed Buck Olney and thought 
he had him bound to the chair in the cabin. Hours 



240 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

when he watched for him, gun in hand, through the 
window beside the bunk. 

It was while he was staring glassy-eyed through the 
window that his attention wandered to the big, white 
bowl of stewed prunes. They looked good, with their 
shiny, succulent plumpness standing up like little wrin- 
kled islands in the small sea of brown juice. Ward 
reached out with his left hand he was gripping the 
gun in his right, ready for Buck when he showed up 
and picked a prune out of the dish. It was his first 
morsel of food since the morning when he had tried 
to eat his breakfast while Buck Olney stared at him 
with the furtive malevolence of a trapped animal. That 
was three days ago. The prune tasted even better than 
it looked. Ward picked out another and another. 

He forgot his feverish hallucination that Buck Olney 
was waiting outside there until he caught Ward off his 
guard. He lay back on his pillow, his fingers relaxed 
upon the gun. He closed his eyes and lay quiet. Per- 
haps he slept a little. 

When he opened his eyes he was in the dark. The 
window was a transparent black square sprinkled with 
stars. Ward watched them awhile. He thought of 
Billy Louise; he would like to know how her mother 
was getting along and how much longer they expected 
to stay in Boise. He thought of the times she had 
kissed him twice, and of her own accord. She would 
not have done it, either time, if he had asked her; he 
knew her well enough for that. She must be left free 
to obey the impulses of that big, brave heart of hers. 
A girl with a smaller soul and one less fine would have 
blushed and simpered and acted the fool generally at 



the mere thought of kissing a man of her own accord. 
Billy Louise had been tender as Christ Himself, and 
as sweet and pure. Was there another girl like her 
in the world? Ward looked at the stars and smiled. 
There was never such another, he told himself. And 
she " liked him to pieces " ; she had said so. Ward 
laughed a little in spite of his throbbing leg." " Some 
other girl would have said, ' Ward, I lo-ove you,' " he 
grinned. " Wilhemina is different." 

He lay there looking up at the stars and thinking, 
thinking. Once his lips moved. He was saying 
" Wilhemina-mine " softly to himself. His eyes, ' shin- 
ing in the starlight, were very tender. After a long 
while he fell asleep, still thinking of her. A late moon 
came up and touched his face and showed it thin and 
sunken-eyed, yet with the little smile hidden behind his 
lips, for he was dreaming of Billy Louise. 

Some time after daylight Ward woke and wanted a 
cigarette, which was a sign that he was feeling a little 
more like himself. He was feverish still, and the beat- 
ing pain in his leg was. maddening. But his brain 
was clear of fever-fog. He smoked a little of the 
cigarette he made from the supply on the shelf behind 
the bunk, and after that he looked about him for some- 
thing to eat. 

He had made a final trip to Hardup two weeks be- 
fore, and had brought back supplies for the winter. 
And because his pay streak of gravel-bank had yielded 
a fair harvest, he had not stinted himself on the things 
he liked to eat. He lay looking over the piled boxes 
against the farther wall, and wondered if he could reach 
the box of crackers and drag it up beside the bunk. He 



was weak, and to move his leg was agony. Well, there 
was the dish of prunes on the window-sill. 

Ward ate a dozen or so but he wanted the crack- 
ers. He leaned as far as he could from the bed, and 
the box was still two feet from his outstretched fingers. 
He lay and considered how he might bring the box 
within reach. 

At the head of the bunk stood the case of peaches 
and beneath that the case of canned tomatoes, the two 
forming a stand for his lantern. He eyed them thought- 
fully, chewing a corner of his underlip. He did not 
want peaches or tomatoes just then; he wanted those 
soda-crackers. 

He took Buck Olney's knife he was finding it a 
most useful souvenir of the encounter ! and pried off 
a board from the peach box. Two nails stuck out 
through each end of the board. He leaned again from 
the bed, reached out with the board, and caught the 
nails in a crack on the upper edge of the cracker-box. 
He dragged the box toward him until it caught against 
a ridge in the rough board floor, when the nails bent 
outward and slipped away from the crack. Ward lay 
back, exhausted with the effort he had made and tor- 
mented with the pain in his leg. 

After awhile he took the piece of board and managed 
to slide it under the box, lifting a corner of it over 
the ridge. That was hard work, harder than you would 
believe unless you tried it yourself after lying three 
days fasting, with a broken leg and a fever. He had 
to rest again before he took the other end of the board, 
that had the good nails, and pulled the box up beside 
the bunk. 



FORTUNE KICKS AGAIN 243 

In a few minutes he made another effort and pried 
part of the cover off the cracker-box with the knife. 
Then he pulled out half a dozen crackers and ate them, 
drank half a dipper of water, and felt better. 

In an hour or so he believed he could stand it to fix 
up his leg a little. There was one splint that was poorly 
wrapped, or something. It felt as though it were dig- 
ging slivers into his leg, and he could n't stand it any 
longer. 

He pulled himself up until he was sitting with his 
back against the wall at the head of his bunk and 
smoked a cigarette before he went any farther. Then 
he unwrapped the bandage carefully, removed the splint 
that hurt the worst, and gently massaged the crease in 
the bruised, swollen flesh where the narrow board had 
pressed so cruelly. 

The crease itched horribly, and it was too sore to 
scratch. Ward cussed it and then got the carbolized 
vaseline and rubbed that on, wincing at the pain of 
his lightest touch. He did not hurry; he had all the 
time there was, and it was a relief to get the bandage 
off his leg for awhile. You may be sure he was very 
careful not to move those broken bones a hair's breadth ! 

He rubbed on the vaseline, fearing the liniment would 
blister and increase his discomfort, and replaced splint 
and bandage. He was terribly tired afterwards and 
lay in a half stupor for a long while. He realized keenly 
that he had a tough pull ahead of him, unless someone 
chanced to ride that way and so discovered his plight ; 
which was so unlikely that he did not build any hope? 
upon it. 

He had held himself aloof from the men of the 



244 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

country. He knew the Seabeck riders by sight ; he had 
talked a little with Floyd Carson two or three times, 
and had met Seabeck himself. He knew Charlie Fox 
in a purely casual way, as has been related ; and Peter 
Howling Dog the same. 

None of these men were likely to ride out of their 
way to see him. And now that his mind worked ra- 
tionally, he had no fear of Buck Olney's vengeful 
return. Buck Olney, he guessed shrewdly, was ex- 
tremely busy just now, putting as many miles as pos- 
sible between himself and that part of Idaho. Unless 
Billy Louise should come or send for him, he would 
in all probability lie alone there until he was able to 
walk. Ward did not try to comfort himself with any 
delusions of hope. 

As the days passed, he settled himself grimly to the 
business of getting through the ordeal as comfortably 
as possible. He had food within his reach, and a scant 
supply of water. He worked out the question of diet 
and of using his resources to the best advantage. He 
had nothing else to do, and his alert mind seized upon 
the situation and brought it down to a fine system. 

For instance, he did not open a can of fruit until 
the prunes were gone. Then he emptied a can of toma- 
toes into the bowl as a safeguard against ptomaine 
poisoning from the tin, and set the empty can on the 
floor. During the warm part of each day he slid open 
the window by his bunk and lay with the fresh air fan- 
ning his face and lifting the hair from his aching 
temples. 

He tried to eat regularly and to make the fruit juice 
save his water supply. Sometimes he chewed jerked 



FORTUNE KICKS AGAIN 245 

venison from the bag over his head, but not very often ; 
the salt in the meat made him drink too much. On 
the whole, his diet was healthful and in a measure satis- 
fying. He did not suffer from the want of ajiy real 
necessity, at any rate. He smoked a good many cig- 
arettes, but he was wise enough to leave the bottle of 
whisky alone after that first terrible time when it 
helped him through a severe ordeal. 

He had his few books within reach. He read a good 
deal, to keep from thinking too much, and he tried 
to meet the days with philosophic calm. He might 
easily be a great deal worse off than he was, he fre- 
quently reminded himself. For instance, if he had 
been able to build another room on to his cabin, his 
bunk and his food supply would have been so widely 
separated as to cause him much hardship. There were, 
he admittecf to himself, certain advantages in living in 
one small room. He could lie in bed and reach nearly 
everything he really needed. 

But he was lonesome. So lonesome that there were 
times when life looked absolutely worthless; when the 
blue devils made him their plaything, and he saw Billy 
Louise looking scornfully upon him and loving some 
other man better; when he saw his name blackened by 
the suspicion that he was a rustler preying upon his 
neighbors' cattle; when he saw Buck Olney laughing 
in derision of his mercy and fixing fresh evidence 
against him to confound him utterly. 

He had all those moods, and they left their own lines 
upon his face. But he had one thing to hearten him, 
and that was the steady progress of his broken leg 
toward recovery. A long, tedious process it was, of 



246 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

necessity; but as nearly as he could judge, the bone 
was knitting together and would be straight and strong 
again, if he did not try to hurry it too much. He 
tried to keep count of the weeks as they passed. When 
the days slid behind him until he feared he could not 
remember, he cut a little notch on the window-sill each 
morning with Buck's knife, with every seventh day a 
longer and deeper notch than the others to mark the 
weeks. The first three days had been so hazy that he 
thought them only two and marked them so; but that 
put him only one day out of his reckoning. 

He lay there and saw snow slither past his window, 
driven by a whooping wind. It worried him to know 
that his calves were unsheltered and unfed while his 
long stack of hay stood untouched unless the cattle 
broke down his fence and reached it. He hoped they 
would; but he was a thorough workman, and in his 
heart he knew that fence would stand. 

He saw cold rains and sleet. Then there were days 
when he shivered under his blankets and would have 
given much for a cup of hot coffee; days when the 
water froze in the pails beside the bed what little 
water was left and he chipped off pieces of ice and 
sucked them to quench his thirst. Days when the to- 
matoes and peaches were frozen in the cans, so that 
he chewed jerked venison and ate crackers rather than 
chill his stomach with the icy stuff. 

Day by day the little notches and the longer ones 
reached farther and farther along the window-sill, until 
Ward began to foresee the time when he must start 
a new row. Day by day his cheek-bones grew more 
clearly defined, his eyes bigger and more wistful. Day 



FORTUNE KICKS AGAIN 247 

by day his knuckles stood up sharper when he closed 
his hands, and day by day Mature worked upon his hurt, 
knitting the bones together. 

But, though he was lean to the point of being skinny, 
his eyes were clear, and what little flesh he had was 
healthy flesh. Though he was lonesome and hungry 
for action and for sight of Billy Louise, his mind had 
not grown morbid. He learned more of the Bobbie 
Burns verses, and he could repeat The Rhyme of the 
Three Sealers in his sleep, and most of The Lady of 
the Lake. He used to lie and sing at the top of his voice, 
sometimes : The Chisholm Trail unexpurgated 
and Sam Bass and that doleful ditty about the Lone 
Prairie, and quaint old Scottish songs he had heard his 
mother sing, long and long ago. His leg would heal 
of itself if he let it alone long enough, he reminded 
himself often. His mind he must watch carefully, if 
he would keep it healthy. He knew that, and each day 
had its own little battle-ground. Sometimes he won, and 
sometimes the fight went against him as is the way 
with the world. 



CHAPTEE XIX 

THE BBAVE BUCKAROO 

" BOISE, IDAHO, December 23. 
" BRAVE BUCKAEOO, 

" I wonder if you ever in your whole life got a Christ- 
mas present ? I Ve been cultivating the Louise of me, 
and here are the first fruits of my endeavor; I guess 
that 's the way they say it. I Ve spent so much time 
sitting by mommie when she 's asleep, and I get tired 
of reading all the time, so a nurse in this ward - 
mommie has a room to herself of course, but not a spe- 
cial nurse, because I can do a lot of the little things 
well, the nurse taught me how to hemstitch. So I got 
some silk and made some nice, soft neckerchiefs one 
for you and one for me. 

" This one I made last. I did n't want your eagle 
eyes seeing all the bobbly stitches on the first one. I 
hope you like it, Ward. Every stitch stands for 
a thought of the hills and our good times. I Ve brought 
Minervy back to life, and I try to play my old pre- 
tends sometimes. But they always break up into pieces. 
I 'm not a kid now, you see. And life is a lot dif- 
ferent when you get out into it, is n't it ? 

" Mommie does n't seem to get much better. I 'm 
worried about her. She seems to have let go, some- 
how. She never talks about the ranch much, or even 



THE BRAVE BUCKAROO 249 

worries about whether Phoebe is keeping the windows 
washed. She talks about when she was a little girl, 
and about when she and daddy were first married. It 
gets on my nerves to see how she has slipped out of 
every-day life. The nurse says that 's common, though, 
in sickness. She says I could go home and look after 
things for a week or so just as well as not. She says 
mommie would be all right. But I hate to leave her. 

" I 'm awfully homesick for a good old ride on Blue. 
I miss him terribly. Have you seen anything of the 
Cove folks lately ? Seems like I 'm clear out of the 
world. I hate town, anyway, and a hospital is the 
limit for dismalness. Even the Louise of me is get- 
ting, ready to do something awful if I have to stay much 
longer. Mommie sleeps most of the time. I believe 
they dope her with something. She does n't have that 
awful pain so bad. So I don't have anything to do but 
sit around and read and sew and wait for her to wake 
up and want something. 

" Pal, the Billy of me is at the exploding point ! I 
believe I '11 wind up by getting out in the corridor some 
day and shooting holes in all the steam radiators ! Did 
you ever live with one, Ward ? Nasty, sizzly things ; 
they drive me wild. I 'd give the best cow in the bunch 
for just one hour in front of our old stone fireplace 
and see the sparks go up the chimney, and hear the 
coyotes. Honest to goodness, I 'd rather hear a coyote 
howl than any music on earth unless maybe it was 
you singing a ten-dollar hoss an' a forty:dollar saddle. 
I 'd like to hear that old trail song once more. I sure 
would, Ward. I 'd like to hear it, coming down old 
Wolverine canyon. Oh, I just can't stand it much 



250 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

longer. I 'm liable to wrap mommie in a blanket and 
crawl out the window, some night, and hit the trail 
for home. I believe I could cure her quicker right 
on the ranch. I wish I 'd never brought her here ; I 
believe it 's just a scheme of the doctors to get money 
out of us. I know my poultices did just as much good 
as their old dope does. 

" And this is Christmas, almost. I wonder what 
you '11 be doing. Say, Ward, if you want to be a per- 
fect jewel of a man, send me some of that jerky you 've 
got hanging at the head of your bunk. I swiped some, 
that last time I was there. It would taste mighty good 
to me now, after all these hospital slops. 

" And write me a nice, long letter, won't you ? That 's 
a good buckaroo. I 've got to stop mommie is be- 
ginning to wake up, and it 's time for the doctor to 
come in and read the chart and look wise and say: 
1 Well, how are we to-day ? Pretty bright, eh ? ' I 'd 
like to kick him clear across the corridor that is, the 
Billy of me would. And believe me, the Billy of me 
is sure going to break out, some of these days! 

" I hope you like the neckerchief. I want you to 
wear it ; if I come home and find it has n't been washed 
a couple of times, there '11 be something doing ! Don't 
rub soap on it, kid. Make a warm lathery suds and 
wash it. And don't wave it by the corners till it dries. 
Hang it up somewhere. You '11 have my stitches look- 
ing worse frazzled than my temper. 

" Well, a merry Christmas, Pal-o'-mine and here 's 
hoping you and mommie and I will be eating turkey 
together at the Wolverine when next Christmas comes, 
JSummy-num! Wouldn't that taste good, though? 



THE BRAVE BUCKAROO 251 

" Now remember and write a whole tablet full to 
" WILLIAM LOUISA, 

" WlLHEMINA, 

" BILL-LOO, 

" BlLL-THE-CoNK, 

" BILLY LOUISE, 

" FLOWER OF THE RANCII-OH." 

Phoebe put that letter on the mantel over the fireplace, 
the day after Christmas. Frequently she felt its puffy 
softness and its crackly crispness acd wondered dully 
what Billy Louise had sent to Ward. 

Billy Louise refrained from expecting any reply un- 
til after New Year's. Then she began to look for a 
letter, and when the days passed and brought her no 
word, her moods changed oftener than the weather. 

Ward's literary eiforts, along about that time, con- 
sisted of cutting notches in the window-sill beside his 
bunk. 

On the day when the stage-driver gave Billy Louise's 
letter to Phoebe, Ward cut a deeper, wider notch, think- 
ing that day was Christmas. Under the notch he 
scratched a word with the point of his knife. It had 
four letters, and it told eloquently of the state of mind 
he was in. 

It was the day after that when Seabeck and one of 
his men rode up the creek and out into the field where 
Ward's cattle grazed apathetically on the little grass 
tufts that stuck up out of the snow. Ward was read- 
ing, and so did not see them until he raised himself up 
to make a cigarette and saw them going straight across 
the coulee by the line fence to the farther hills. He 



252 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

opened the window and shouted after them, but the 
wind was blowing keen from that direction, and they 
did not hear him. 

Seabeck had been studying brands and counting, and 
he was telling Floyd Carson that everything was straight 
as a string. 

" He must be out working this winter. I should 
think he 'd stay home and feed these calves. The cows 
are looking pretty thin. I guess he is n't much of a 
stock hand ; these nesters are n't, as a general thing, 
and if it 's, as Junkins says, and he puts all he makes 
into this place, he 's likely hard up. Mighty nice little 
ranch he 's got. Well, let 's work over the divide and 
back that way. I did n't think we 'd find anything 
here." 

They turned and angled up the steep hillside, and 
Ward watched them glumly. He thought he knew why 
they were prowling around the place, but it seemed to 
him that they might have stretched their curiosity a 
little farther and investigated the cabin. He did not 
know that the snow of a week ago was banked over 
the doorstep with a sharp, crusty combing at the top, 
to prove that the door had not been opened for some 
time. Nor did he know that the two had ridden past 
the cabin on the other side of the creek and had seen 
how deserted the place looked ; had ridden to the stable, 
noted there the unmistakable and permanent air of 
emptiness, and had gone on. 

Floyd Carson alone might have prowled through both 
buildings, but Seabeck was a slow-going man of sober 
justice. He would not invade the premises of another 
farther than he thought it necessary. He had heard 



THE BRAVE BUCKAROO 253 

whispers that the fellow on Mill Creek might bear in- 
vestigation, and he had investigated. There was not 
a shadow of evidence that the Y6 cattle had been got- 
ten dishonestly. Therefore, Seabeck rode away and did 
not look into the snow-banked cabin, as another man 
might have done; and Ward missed his one chance of 
getting help from the outside. 

Of course, he was doing pretty well as it was ; but he 
would have welcomed the chance to talk to someone. 
Taciturn as Ward was with men, he had enough of his 
own company for once. And he would have asked them 
to make him a cup of coffee and warm up the cabin 
once more. Little comforts of that sort he missed ter- 
ribly. If the room had not been so clammy cold, he 
could have sat up part of the time, now. As it was, 
he stayed in bed to keep warm; and even so he had 
been compelled to drag the two wolf-skins off the floor 
and upon the bed to keep from shivering through the 
coldest nights and days. ' 

One day he did crawl out of bed and try to get over 
to the stove to start a fire. But he was so N weak that 
he gave it up and crawled back again, telling himself 
that it was not worth the effort. 

The letter with the silk neckerchief inside gath- 
ered dust upon the mantel, down at the Wolverine. 
When the postmark was more than two weeks old, an- 
other letter came, and Phoebe laid it on the fat one 
with fingers that trembled a little. Phosbe had a letter 
of her own, that day* Both were thin, and the ad- 
dresses were more scrawly than usual. Phoebe's Indian 
instinct warned her that something was amiss. 

This was Ward's letter : 



254 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" Oh, God, Ward, mommie's dead. She died last 
night. I thought she was asleep till the nurse came in 
at five o'clock. I 'm all alone and I don't know what 
to do. I wish you could come, but if you don't get 
this right away, I '11 see you at the ranch. I 'm com- 
ing home as soon as I can. Oh, Ward, I hate life and 
God and everything. BILLY LOUISE." 

" Please Ward, stay at the ranch till I come. I want 
to see you. I feel as if you 're the only friend I 've 
got left, now mommie 's gone. She looked so peaceful 
when they took her away and so strange. I did n't 
belong to her any more. I felt as if I did n't know 
her at all and there is such an awful gap in my 
life maybe you '11 understand. You always do." 

The day that letter was written, Ward drew a plan 
of the house he meant to build some day, with a wide 
porch on the front, where a hammock would swing com- 
fortably. He figured upon lumber and shingles and 
rock foundation, and mortar for a big, deep fireplace. 
He managed to put in the whole forenoon planning and 
making estimates, and he was so cheerful afterwards 
that he whistled and sang, and later he tied a piece of 
jerky on the end of a string and teased a fat field- 
mouse, whose hunger made him venturesome. Ward 
would throw the jerky as far as the string would per- 
mit and wait till 'the mouse came out to nibble at it; 
then he would pull the meat closer and closer to the 
bed and laugh at the very evident perturbation of the 
mouse. For the time being he was a boy indulging his 
love of teasing something. 

And while Ward played with that mouse, Billy 



THE BRAVE BUCKAROO 255 

Louise was longing for his comforting presence while 
she faced alone one of the bitterest things in life 
which is death. He had no presentiment of her need 
of him, which was just as well, since he was abso- 
lutely powerless to help her. 



CHAPTER XX 



BILLY LOUISE, having arrived unexpectedly on 
the stage, pulled off her fur-lined mittens and put 
her chilled hands before the snapping blaze in the fire- 
place. Her eyes were tired and sunken, and her mouth 
drooped pitifully at the corners, but aside from that 
she did not seem much changed from the girl who had 
left the ranch two months and more before. 

" I '11 take a cup of tea, Phoebe, but I 'm not a bit 
hungry," she said. " I ate just before I left town. 
How have you been, Phoebe ? " 

" We been fine. We been so sorry for you " 

" Never mind that now, Phoebe. I 'd rather not talk 
about it. Has anybody been here lately ? " 

" Charlie Fox, he come las' week mebby week be- 
fore las'. Marthy, she got rheumatis in her knee. 
Charlie, he say she been pr*etty bad one night. I guess 
she 's better now. I tol' I wash for her if he brings 
me clo'es, but he says he wash them clo'es hisself. I 
guess Charlie pretty good to that old lady. He 's awful 
p'lite, that feller is." 

" Yes, he is. I '11 go up and see her when I get 
rested a little. I feel tired to death, somehow; maybe 
it 's the drive. The road is terribly rough, and it 
was awful tiresome on the train. Has Ward been 
around lately ? " 



' WE BEEN SORRY FOR YOU " 257 

" Ward, he ain't been here for long time. I guess 
mebbe it 's been six weeks I ain't seen him. Las' 
time he was here he wrote that letter. He ain't come 
no more. You let me drag this couch up to the fire, 
and you lay down and rest yo'self. I '11 put on more 
wood. Seems like this is awful cold winter. We had 
six little pigs come, and four of 'em froze. John, 
he brung 'em in by the fire, but it 's no good ; they _die, 
anyway." 

Billy Louise dropped apathetically upon the couch 
after Phoebe had helped her pull off her coat. She did 
not feel as though anything mattered much, but she must 
go on with life, no matter how purposeless it seemed. 
To live awhile and work and struggle and know the 
pain of disappointment and weariness, and then to die : 
she did not see what use there was in struggling. But 
one had to go on just the same. She had borrowed 
money for mommie's sickness, and she would have to 
repay it ; apd it was all so purposeless ! 

" How are the cattle wintering ? " She forced her- 
self to make some show of interest in things. 

" The cattle, they 're doing all right. One heifer, 
she got blackleg and die, but the rest they 're all right. 
John, he could n't find all ; two or three, they 're gone. 
He says mebby them rustlers got 'em. He looked good 
as he could." 

" Are has there been any more trouble about losing 
stock ? " Billy Louise shut her hand into a fist, but she 
spoke in the same tired tone as before. 

" I dunno. Seabeck, he told John they don't catch 
nobody yet. That inspector, he come by long time ago. 
I guess he stopped with Seabeck. He ain't come back 



258 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

yet. I dunno where he 's gone. Seabeck, he did n't say 
nothing to John about him, I guess. Maybe he went 
out the other way." 

"I did you do what I told you, Phoebe, about 
mommie's things ? " 

For once Phoebe did not answer garrulously. " Yes, 
I done it," she said softly. " The boxes is in the shed 
when you want 'em." 

" All right, Phoebe. Is the tea ready ? " 

While she sipped creamy tea from a solid-silver 
teaspoon which had been a part of mommie's wedding- 
set, Billy Louise looked around the familiar room for 
which she had hungered so in those deadly, monotonous 
weeks at the hospital. The fire snapped in its stone 
recess, and the cheerful warmth of it comforted her 
body and in a measure soothed her spirit. She was 
chilled to the bones with facing that bitter east wind 
for hours, and she had not seen a fireplace in all the 
time she had been away. 

But the place was empty, with no mommie fussing 
about, worrying over little things, gently garrulous. If 
mommie had come back well, she would have asked 
Phoebe about everything in the house and out of it. 
There would have been a housewifely accounting going 
on at this minute. Phoebe would be apologetic over 
those grimy windows, instead of merely sympathetic 
over the sorrow in the house. Billy Louise wondered 
wherein she lacked. For the life of her she could 
not feel that it mattered whether the windows were 
clean or dirty ; life was drab and cheerless outside them, 
anyway. 

Billy Louise in the last few months had tried to 



" WE BEEN SORRY FOR YOU " 259 

picture herself alone, with mommie gone. Her imagi- 
nation was too alive and saw too clearly the possibili- 
ties for her never to have dwelt upon this very crisis 
in her life. But whenever she had tried to think what 
it would be like, she had always pictured Ward beside 
her, shielding her from dreary details and lightening 
her burden with his whimsical gentleness. She had 
felt sure that Ward would ride down every week for 
news of her, and she had expected to find him there 
waiting for her, after that last letter. Whatever could 
be the matter? Had he left the country? 

Billy Louise's faith had compromised definitely with 
her doubts of him. Guilty or innocent, she would be 
his friend always; that was the condition her faith 
had laid down challengingly before her doubts. But 
unless he were innocent and proved it to her, she would 
never marry him, no matter how much she loved him. 
That was the concession her faith had made to her 
doubts. 

Billy Louise had a wise little brain, for all she ideal- 
ized life and her surroundings out of all proportion 
to reality. She told herself that if she married Ward 
with her doubts alive, her misery would be far greater 
than if she gave him up, except as a friend. Of course, 
her ideals stepped in there with an impracticable com- 
promise. She brought back the Ward Warren of her 
" pretend " life. She dreamed of him as a mutely 
adoring friend who stood and worshiped her from afar, 
and because of his sins could not cross the. line of 
friendship. 

If he were a rustler, she would shield him and save 
him, if that were possible. He would love her always 



260 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Billy Louise could not conceive of Ward transferring 
his affections to another less exacting woman and he 
would be grateful for her friendship. She could build 
long, lovely scenes where friendliness was put to the 
front bravely, while love hid behind the mask and only 
peeped out through the eyes now and then. She did 
not, of course, plan all this in sober reason; she just 
dreamed it with her eyes open. 

It had been in such a spirit that she had written to 
Ward; 'though he would undoubtedly have read love 
into the lines and so have been encouraged in the plan- 
ning of that house with the wide porch in front ! She 
had dreamed all the way home of seeing Ward at the 
end of the journey. Perhaps he would come out and 
help her down from the stage, when it stopped at the 
gate, and call her Bill-Loo never once had Ward 
spoken her name as others spoke it, but always with 
a twist of his own which made it different, stamped 
with his own individuality and he would walk be- 
side her to the house and comfort her with his eyes, 
and never mention mommie till she herself opened the 
way to her grief. Then he would call her Wilhemina- 
mine in that kissing way he had 

Someone came upon the doorstep and stood there for 
a moment, stamping snow off his feet. Billy Louise 
caught her breath and waited, her eyes veiled with her 
lashes and shining expectantly. A little color came 
into her cheeks. Ward had been delayed somehow, but 
he was ^ coming now because she needed him and he 
wanted her 

It was only John Pringle, heavy-bodied, heavy- 
minded, who came in and squeaked the door shut 



" WE BEEN SORRY FOR YOU ' 261 

behind him. Billy Louise gave him a glance and 
dropped her head back on the red cushion. " Hello, 
John ! " she greeted tonelessly. 

John grinned, embarrassed between his pleasure at 
seeing Billy Louise and his pity for her trouble. His 
white teeth showed a little under his scraggy, breath- 
frosted mustache. 

" Hello ! You got back, hey ? She 's purty cold 
again. Seems like it 's goin' storm some more." He 
pulled off his mittens and. tugged at the ice dangling 
at the corners of his lips. " You come on stage, hey ? 
I bet you freeze." He went over and stood with his 
back to the fire, his leathery brown hands clasped be- 
hind him, his face still undecided as to the most suit- 
able emotion to reveal. " Well, how you like town, 
hey? No good, I guess. You got plenty trouble now. 
Phoebe and me, we stick by you long as you want 
us to." 

" I know you will, John." Billy Louise bit her lips 
against a sudden impulse to tears. It was not Ward, 
but the crude sympathy of this old halfbreed was more 
to her than all the expensive flowers that had been 
stacked upon mommie's coffin. She had felt terribly 
alone in Boise. But her chilled soul was beginning to 
feel the warmth of friendship in these two half-savage 
servants. Even without Ward, her home-coming was 
not absolutely cheerless, after all. 

" Well, we make out to keep things going," John 
announced pridefully. " We got leetle bad luck, not 
much. One heifer, she die blackleg. Four pigs, 
they froze leetle fellers. I save the rest, all right. 
Ole Mooley, she goin' have a calf purty queeck now. I 



262 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

got her in leetle shed by hog-pen. Looks like it storm, 
all right" 

" Felt like it, too." Billy Louise made an effort 
to get back into the old channels of thought. " We '11 
milk old Mooley, John; I feel as if I could live on 
cream and milk for the next five years. You ought 
to see the watery stuff they call milk in Boise ! Star 
must be pretty near dry now, is n't she ? " 

" Purty near." John's voice was beginning to ooze 
the comfort that warmth was giving his big body. 
" She give two quart, mebby. Spot, she give leetle 
more. I got that white hog fat. I kill him any time 
now you say." 

" If it does n't storm, you might kill him to-morrow 
or next day, John. I '11 take a roast up to Marthy 
when I go. I '11 go in a day or two." She glanced 
toward the kitchen end of the long room. Phoebe was 
busy in the pantry with the door shut. " Have you 
seen or heard anything of Ward lately ? " she asked 
carelessly. 

" No. I ain't seen Ward for long time. I thought 
mebbe he be down long time ago. He ain't come." 
John shifted a little farther from the blaze and stood 
teetering comfortably upon the balls of his feet, like a 
bear. " Mebbe he 's gone out other way to work." 

" Did he say anything ? " 

" No, he don't say nothin' las' time he come. 
That 's " John rolled his black eyes seekingly at 
the farther wall while he counted mentally the weeks. 
" I guess that mus' be fo' or five weeks now. Charlie 
Fox, he come las' week." 

" John, you better kill a chicken for Billy Louise. 



' WE BEEX SORRY FOR YOU ' 263 

I bet she ain't had no chicken since she 's gone." Phoebe 
came from the pantry with her hands all flour. " You 
go now. That young speckled rooster be good, 
mebby. He's fat. He's fightin' all the chickens, anj- 
way." 

" All right. I kill him." John answered with re- 
markable docility. Usually he growled at poor Phoebe 
and objected to everything she suggested. 

His ready compliance touched Billy Louise more 
than anything since her return. She felt anew the 
warm comfort of their sympathy. If only Ward had 
been there also! She got up from the couch and went 
to the window where she could look across at the bleak 
hilltop. She stood there for some minutes looking 
out wistfully, hoping that she would see him ride into 
view at the top of the steep trail. After awhile she 
went back and curled up on the wide old couch and 
stared abstractedly into the fire. 

John had gone out after the young speckled rooster 
that fought the other chickens and must now do his part 
toward salving the hurt and cheering the home-coming 
of Billy Louise. John returned, mumbled with Phoebe 
at the far end of the room, and went out again. Phoebe 
worked silently and briskly, rattling pans now and then 
and lifting the stove lids to put in more wood. Billy 
Louise heard the sounds but dimly. The fire was filled 
with pictures; her thoughts were wandering here and 
there, bridging the gap between the past and the misty 
future. After awhile the savory odor of the young 
speckled rooster, that had fought all the other chickens 
but was now stewing in a mottled blue-and-white gran- 
ite pan, smote her nostrils and won her thoughts from 



dreaming. She sat up and pushed back her hair like 
one just waking from sleep. 

" I '11 set the table, Phoebe, when you 're ready," she 
said, and her voice sounded less strained and tired. 
" That chicken sure does smell good ! " She rose and 
busied herself about the room, setting things in order 
upon the reading-table and the shelves. Phoebe was 
good as gold, but her housekeeping was a trifle sketchy. 

" Ward, he borried some books las' time," Phoebe 
remarked, lifting the lid of the stew kettle and letting 
out a cloud of delicious-smelling steam. " I dunno 
what they was. He said he 'd bring 'em back nex' time 
he come." 

" Oh, all right," said Billy Louise, and smiled a 
little. Even so slight a thing as borrowed books made 
another link between them. For a girl who means 
to be a mere friend to a man, Billy Louise harbored 
some rather dangerous emotions. 

She picked up the two letters she had written Ward, 
brushed off the dust, and eyed them hesitatingly. It 
certainly was queer that Ward had not ridden down 
for some word from her. She hesitated, then threw 
the thin letter into the fire. Its message was no longer 
of urgent, poignant need. Billy Louise drew a long- 
breath when the grief-laden lines crumbled quickly and 
went flying up the wide throat of the chimney. The 
other letter she pinched between her thumbs and fin- 
gers. She smiled a little to herself. Ward would like 
to get that. She had a swift vision of him standing 
over there by the window and reading it with those 
swift, shuttling glances, holding the handkerchief 
squeezed up in his hand the while. She remembered 



' WE BEEN SORRY FOR YOU " 265 

how she had begun it " Brave Buckaroo " and her 
cheeks turned pink. He should have it when he came. 
Something had kept him away. He would come just 
as soon as he could. She laid the letter back upon 
the mantel and set a china cow on it to keep it safe 
there. Then she turned brightly and began to set the 
table for Phoebe and John and herself, and came near 
setting a fourth place for Ward, she was so sure he 
would come as soon as he could. Mommie used to 
say that if you set a place for a person, that person 
would come and eat with you, in spirit if not in reality. 
Phoebe glanced at her pityingly when she saw her 
hesitating, with the fourth plate in her hands. Phoebe 
thought that Billy Louise had unconsciously brought 
it for mommie. Phoebe did not know that love is 
stronger even than grief; for at that moment Billy 
Louise was not thinking of mommie at all. 



CHAPTER XXI 

SEVEN LEAN KINE 

ND you looked good, all up above here ? " Billy 
Louise held Blue firmly to a curved-neck, cir-~ 
cling stand, while she had a last word with John before 
she went off on one of her long rides. 

" All up in the hills, and round over by Cedar Creek, 
and "all over." John's mittened gesture was even more 
sweeping than his statement. " I guess mebby them 
rustlers git 'em." 

" Well, I 'm going up to the Cove. I may not be 
back before dark, so don't worry if I 'm . late. Maybe 
I '11 look along the river. I know one place where I 
believe cattle can get down to the bottom, if they 're 
crazy enough to try it. You didn't look there, did 
you?" 

" No, I never looked down there. I know they can't 
git down nohow." 

" Well, all right ; maybe they can't." Billy Louise 
slackened the reins, and Blue went off with short, 
stiff-legged jumps. It had been a long time since he 
had felt the weight of his lady, and his mood now 
was exuberant, especially so, since the morning was 
clear, with a nip of frost to tingle the skin and the 
glow of the sun to promise falsely the nearness of 
spring. The hill trail steadied him a little, though 



SEVEN LEAN KINE 267 

he went up the steepest pitch with rabbit- jumps and 
teetered on his toes the rest of the way. 

Billy Louise laughed a little, leaned, and grabbed a 
handful of slatey mane. " Oh, you Blue-dog!" she 
said, for that was his full name. " Life is livable, 
after all, as long as a fellow has got you and can 
ride. You good-for-nothing old ten-dollar hoss ! I 
wonder would it be wicked to sing? What do you 
think, Blue ? You 'd sing, I know, at the top of your 
voice, if you could. Say, Blue! Don't you wish you 
were a donkey, so you could stick out your neck and 
go Fee-ee-haw! Fee-ee-haw? Try it once. I believe 
you could. It 's that or a run, one or the other. You '11 
bust, if you don't do something. I know you ! " 

At last on the high level, seeing Blue could not bray 
his joy to the world, Billy Louise let him go. She 
needed some outlet, herself, after those horrible, dull 
weeks weighted with tragedy. She had been raised on 
horseback, almost; and for two terrible months she 
had not been in the saddle. And there is nothing 
like the air of the Idaho hills to stir one's blood and 
send it singing. 

Through the sagebrush and rocks, weaving in and 
out, slacking speed a little while he went down into 
deep gullies, thundering up the other side, and racing 
away over the level again, went Blue. And with him, 
laughing, tingling with new life, growing pinker- 
cheeked every minute, went Billy Louise. Her mother's 
death did not oppress her then. She thought of her 
as she raced, but she thought of her with a little, tender 
smile. Her mother was resting peacefully, and there 



268 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

was no more pain or worry for the little, pale, frail 
woman who had lived her life and gone her way. 

" Dear old mommie ! " said Billy Louise under her 
breath. " Your kid is almost as happy as you are, 
right now. Don't be shocked, there 's a dear, or think 
I 'm going to break my neck. Blue and I have just 
simply got to work off steam. You, Blue ! " She leaned 
another inch forward. 

Blue threw up his head, lifted his heels, and ran 
like a scared jackrabbit over the uneven ground. They 
were not keeping to the trail at all; trails were too 
tame for them in that mood. They ran along the rim- 
rock at the last, where Billy Louise could glance down, 
now and then, at the river sliding like a bright-blue rib- 
bon with icy edges through the gray, snow-spotted hills. 

" Hold on, Blue ! " Billy Louise pulled up on the 
reins. " Quit it, you old devil ! A mile ought to 
be enough for once, I should think. There 's cattle 
down there in that bottom, sure as you live. And we, 
my dear sir, are going down there and take a look at 
them." She managed to pull Blue down to stiff-legged 
jumps and then to a walk. Finally she stopped him, 
so that she could the better take in her surroundings 
and the possibilities of getting down. 

In the country it is as in the cities. One forms 
habits of journeying. One becomes perfectly familiar 
with every hill and every little hollow in certain direc- 
tions, while some other, closer part remains practically 
unexplored. Billy Louise had always loved the Wol- 
verine canyon, and its brother, Jones canyon, which 
branched off from the first. As a child she had ex- 
plored every foot of both, and had ridden the hills 



SEVEN LEAN KINE 269 

beyond. As a young woman she had kept to the old 
playground. Her cattle ranged at the head of the 
canyons. 

The river bottoms came as near being unknown ter- 
ritory as she could have found within forty miles of 
her home. For one thing, the river bottom was nar- 
row, except where was the Cove, and pinched in places 
till there seemed no way of passing from one to .an- 
other. Little pockets there were, tucked away under the 
rocky bluff with its collar of " rim-rock " above. One 
might climb down afoot, but Billy Louise was true to 
her range breeding; she never went anywhere afoot if 
she could possibly get there on a horse. And down there 
by the river she never had happened to find it neces- 
sary to go, either afoot or a-horseback. Still, if cattle 
could get down there 

" I guess we '11 have to ride back a way," she said, 
after a brief inspection, during* which Blue stood so 
close to the rim that Billy Louise must have had a clear 
head to feel no tremor of nerves or dizziness. 

She turned and rode slowly back along the edge, 
looking for the place where she 'believed cattle could 
get down if they were crazy enough to try. 

" Don't look very encouraging, does it, Blue ? " Billy 
Louise stared doubtfully at the place, leaning and peer- 
ing over the rim. " What d 'ye think ? Reckon we can 
make it ? " 

Blue had caught sight of the moving specks far down 
next the river and up the stream half a mile or more. 
He was a cow-horse to the bone. He knew those far- 
off specks for cattle, and he knew that his lady would 
like a closer look at them. That 's what cattle were 



270 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

made for: to haze out of brush and rocks and gullies 
and drive somewhere. So far as Blue knew, cattle were 
a game. You hunted them out of ungodly places, and 
the game was to make them go somewhere else against 
their wishes. He prided himself on being able to play 
that game, no matter what were the odds against him. 

Now he tilted his head a little and looked down at 
the bluff beneath him. The game was beginning. He 
must get down that bluff and overtake those specks and 
drive them somewhere. He glanced up and down the 
bluff to see if a better trail offered. Billy Louise 
laughed understandingly. 

" It 's this or nothing, Blue. Looks pretty fierce, all 
right, does n't it ? Of course, if you 're going to make 
a perfect lady get off and walk " 

Blue snuffed at the ledge with his neck craned. The 
rim-rock had crumbled and sunk low into the bluff, 
like a too rich pie-crust when the oven is not quite hot 
enough. From a ten- or fifteen-foot wall it shrunk 
here to a three-foot ledge. And below the rocks and 
bowlders were not actually piled on top of one another ; 
there were clear spaces where a wary, wise, old cow- 
horse might possibly pick his way. 

Blue chose his trail and crumpled at the knees with 
his hoofs on the very edge of the ledge; went down 
with a cat-jump and landed with all four feet planted 
close together. He had no mind to go on sliding in 
spite of himself, and the bluff was certainly steep 
enough to excuse a bungle. 

" So far so good." Billy Louise glanced ruefully 
back at the ledge. " We 're down ; but how the deuce 
do you reckon we '11 get up again ? " 



SEVEN LEAN KINE 271 

Blue was not worrying about that part. He went 
on, picking his way carefully among the bowlders, with 
his nose close to earth, setting his hindlegs stiffly and 
tobogganing down loose, shale slopes. Billy Louise 
sat easily in the saddle and enjoyed it all. She was 
making up in big doses for the drab dullness of those 
hospital weeks. She ought to walk down the bluff, 
for this was dangerous play; but she craved danger ^as 
an antidote to that shut-in life of petty rules and regu- 
lations. 

It was with a distinct air of triumph that Blue 
reached the bottom, even though he slid the last forty 
feet on his haunches and landed belly-deep in a soft 
snow-bank. It was with triumph to match his perky 
ears that Billy Louise leaned and slapped him on the 
neck. " "We made it ! " she cried, " and I did n't have 
to walk a step, did I, Blue ? You 're there with the 
goods, all right ! " 

Blue scrambled out of the bank to firm footing on 
the ripened grass of the bottom, and with a toss of his 
head set off in a swinging lope, swerving now and 
then to avoid a badger hole or a half-sunken rock. They 
had done something new, those two; they had reached 
a place where neither had ever been before, and Blue 
acted as if he knew it and gloried in the escapade quite 
as much as did his lady. 

The cattle spied them and went trotting away up the 
river, and Blue quickened his stride a little and fol- 
lowed after. Billy Louise left the reins loose upon his 
neck. Blue could handle cattle alone quite as skillfully 
as with a rider, if he chose. 

The cattle dodged into a fringe of bushes close to 



272 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

the river and disappeared, which was queer, since the 
bluff curved in close to the bank at that point. Blue 
pricked up his ears and went clattering after, slowed 
a little at the willow-fringe, stuck his nose straight 
out before him, and went in confidently. The cattle 
were just ahead. He could smell them, and his listen- 
ing ears caught their heavy breathing. It was very 
rocky there in the willows, and he must pick his way 
with much care. But when he crashed through on the 
far side, and Billy Louise straightened from leaning 
low along his neck to avoid the stinging branches, the 
cattle gave a snort and went lumbering away, still fol- 
lowing the river. 

This was another small, grassy bottom. Blue went 
galloping after them, indignant that they should even 
attempt to elude him. They were making for the head of 
that pocket, and Billy Louise twitched the reins sugges- 
tively. Blue obeyed the hint, which proved that the hu- 
man brain is greater in strategy than is brute instinct, and 
raced in an angle from the fleeing cattle. Billy Louise 
leaned and called to him sharply for more speed ; called 
for it and got it. They jumped a washout that the 
cattle went into and out of with great lunges, farther 
down toward its mouth. They gained a little there, 
and by a burst of hard running they gained more on 
the level beyond. 

The cattle began to swerve away from them, closer 
to the river. Blue pulled ahead a little, swerving also, 
and as Billy Louise tightened the reins, he slowed and 
circled them craftily until they huddled on the steep 
bank, uncertain which way to go. Billy Louise pulled 
Blue down to a walk as she drew near and eyed the 



SEVEN LEAN KINE 273 

cattle sharply. They did not look like any of hers, 
after all. There were five dry cows and two steers. 

One of the steers stood broadside to Billy Louise. 
The brand stared out from his dingy red side, the 
most conspicuous thing about him. Billy Louise caught 
her breath. There was no faintest line that failed to 
drive its message into her range-trained brain. She 
stared and stared. Blue looked around at her inquir- 
ingly, reproachfully. Billy Louise sent him slowly for- 
ward and stirred up the huddled little bunch. She read 
the brand on each one; read the story they shouted at 
her, of bungling theft. She could not believe it. Yet 
she did believe it, and she went hot with anger and dis- 
appointment and contempt. She sat and thought for 
a minute or two, scowling at the cattle, while she 
decided what to do. 

Finally she swung Blue on the down-stream side and 
shouted the range cattle-cry. The animals turned awk- 
wardly and went upstream, as they had been going 
before Billy Louise stopped them. Blue followed watch- 
fully after, content with the game he was playing. 
Where the bluffs drew close again to the river, the 
cattle climbed to a narrow, shelving trail through the 
rocks and went on in single file, picking their way 
carefully along the bluff. Below them it fell sheer to 
the river; above them it rose steeply, a blackened jum- 
ble, save where the snow of the last storm lay drifted. 

Billy Louise had never known there was a trail up 
this gorge. She eyed it critically and saw where bowl- 
ders had been moved here and there to make its .passage 
possible. Her lips were set close together and they 
still bore the imprint of her contempt. 



274 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

She thought of Ward. Mentally she abased herself 
before him because of her doubts. How had she dared 
think him a thief? Her brave buckaroo! And she 
had dared think he would steal cattle! Her very re- 
morse was a whip to lash her anger against the guilty. 
She hurried the cattle along the dangerous trail, im- 
patient of their cautious pace. 

When finally they clattered down to the level again, 
it was to plunge into willow thickets whose branches 
reached out to sweep her from the saddle. Blue went 
carefully, stopping now and then at a word from his 
lady, to wait while she put a larger, more stubborn 
branch out of her way. She could not see just where 
she was going, but she knew that she was close upon 
the cattle, and that they seemed familiar with the trail. 
Jsow and then she caught sight of a rough-haired rump 
and switching tail in the thicket before her. Then 
the whip-like branches would swing close, and she could 
see nothing but their gray tangle reaching high above 
her head. She could hear the crackling progress of the 
cattle close ahead, and the gurgling clamor of the river 
farther away to her right. But she could not see the 
bluff for the close-standing willows, and she did not 
know whether it was near or far to its encircling wall. 

Then, just as she was beginning to think the willows 
would never end, she came quite suddenly out into the 
open, and Blue lifted himself and jumped a dry ditch. 
The cattle were before her, shambling along the fenced 
border of a meadow. 



CHAPTEK XXII 

THB BILLY OF HEB 

SINCE she had closed up on the cattle and had read 
on their sides the shameful story of theft, Billy 
Louise had known that she would eventually come out 
at the lower end of the Cove ; and that in spite of the 
fact that the Cove was not supposed to have any egress 
save through the gorge. What surprised her was the 
short distance; she had not realized that the bluff and 
the upland formed a wide curve, and that she had cut 
the distance almost in half by riding next the river. 

She seemed in no doubt as to what she would do when 
she arrived. Billy Louise was not much given to in- 
decision at any time. She drove the cattle into the 
corral farthest from the house, rode on to the stable, 
and stopped Blue with his nose against the fence there 
and with his reins dragging. Then, tight-lipped still, 
she walked determinedly along the path to the gate that 
led through the berry-jungle to the cabin. 

She opened the gate and stepped through, closing 
it after her. She had not gone twenty feet when there 
was a rush from the nearest thicket, and Surbus, his 
hair ruffed out along his neck, growled and made a 
leap at her with bared fangs. 

Billy Louise had forgotten about Surbus. She 
jumped back, startled, and the dog missed landing. 



276 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

When he sprang again he met a thirty-eight calibre 
bullet from Billy Louise's gun and dropped back. It 
had been a snap shot, without any particular aiming; 
Billy Louise retreated a few steps farther, watching 
the dog suspiciously. He gathered himself slowly and 
prepared to spring at her again. This time Billy Louise, 
being on the watch for such a move, aimed carefully 
before she fired. Surbus dropped again, limply a 
good dog forever more. 

Billy Louise heard a shrill whistle and the sound of 
feet running. She waited, gun in hand, ready for what- 
ever might come. 

" Hey ! Charlie ! Somebody 's come ; the bell, she 
don't reeng." Peter Howling Dog, a pistol in his hand, 
came running down the path from the cabin. He saw 
Billy Louise and stopped abruptly, his mouth half 
open. 

From a shed near the stable came Charlie, also run- 
ning. Billy Louise waited beside the gate. He did 
not see her until he was close, for a tangled gooseberry 
bush stood between them. 

" What was it, Peter ? Somebody in the Cove ? Or 
was it you " 

" ~No, it was n't Peter ; it was me." Billy Louise 
informed him calmly and ungrammatically. " I shot 
Surbus, that 's all." 

" Oh ! Why, Miss Louise, you nearly gave me heart 
failure ! How are you ? I thought " 

" You thought somebody had gotten into the Cove 
without your knowing it. Well, someone did. I rode 
up from below, along the river." 

" Oh er did you ? Pretty rough going, was n't 



THE BILLY OF HER 277 

it? I didn't think it could be done. Come in; Aunt 
Martha will be " 

" I don't think she '11 be overjoyed to see me." Billy 
Louise stood still beside the gooseberry bush, and she 
had forgotten to put away her gun. " I drove up those 
cattle you had down below. You 're awfully care- 
less, Charlie ! I should think Peter or Marthy would 
have told you better. When a man steals cattle by 
working over the brands, it 's very bad form to keep 
them right on his ranch in plain sight. It is n't done 
by the best people, you know." Her voice stung with 
the contempt she managed to put into it. And though 
she smiled, it was such a smile as one seldom saw 
upon the face of Billy Louise. 

"What's all this? Worked brands! Why, Miss 
Louise, I I would n't know how to " 

" I know. You did an awful punk job. A person 
could tell in the dark it was the work of a greenhorn. 
Why did n't you let Peter do it, or Marthy ? You could 
have done a better job than that, could n't you, 
Marthy?" 

Poor old Marthy, with her rheumatic knees and a 
gray hardness in her leathery face, had come down 
the path and stood squarely before Billy Louise, her 
hands knuckling her flabby hips, her hair blowing in 
gray, straggling wisps about her bullet head. 

" Better than what ? Come in, Billy Louise. I 'm 
right glad to see ye back and lookin' so well, even if 
yuh do 'pear to be in one of your tantrums. How 's 
yer maw ? " 

Billy Louise gasped and went white. " Mommie 's 
dead," she said. " She died the ninth." She drew anr 



278 

other gasping breath, pulled herself together, and went 
on before the others could begin the set speeches of 
sympathy which the announcement seemed to demand. 

" Never mind about that, now. I 'm talking about 
those Seabeck cattle you folks stole. I was telling 
Charlie how horribly careless he is, Marthy. Did you 
know he let them drift down the river? And a blind 
man could tell a mile off the brands have been worked ! " 
Billy Louise's tone was positively venomous in its con- 
tempt. " Why did n't you make Charlie practise on a 
cowhide for awhile first ? " she asked Marthy cuttingly. 

Marthy ignored the sarcasm. Perhaps it did not 
penetrate her stolid mind at all. " Charlie never 
worked any brands, Billy Louise," she stated with her 
glum directness. 

" Oh, I beg his pardon, I J m sure ! Did you ? " 

" No, I never done such a thing, neither. I don't 
know what you 're talkin' about." 

"Well, who did, then?" Billy Louise faced the 
old woman pitilessly. 

" I d'no." Marthy lifted her hand and made a futile 
effort to tuck in a few of the longest wisps of hair. 

" Well, of all the " The stern gray eyes of Billy 
Louise flew wide open at the effrontery of the words. 
If they expected her to believe that ! 

" That 's it, Miss Louise. That 's the point we 'd 
like to settle, ourselves. I know it sounds outrageous, 
but it 's a fact. Peter and I found those cattle up in 
the hills, with our brand worked over the V. On my 
word of honor, not one of us knows who did it." 

" But you 've got them down here " 

"Well ' Charlie threw out a hand helplessly. 



THE BILLY OF HER 279 

His eyes met hers with appealing frankness. " We 
could n't rub out the brands ; what else could we do ? 
I figured that somebody else would see them if we left 
them out in the hills, and it might be rather hard to 
convince a man; you see, we can't even convince you! 
But, so help me, not one of us branded those cattle, Miss 
Louise. I believe that whoever has been rustling stock 
around here deliberately tried to fix evidence against 
us. I 'm a stranger in the country, and I don't know 
the game very well ; I 'm an easy mark ! " 

" Yes, you 're that, all right enough ! " Billy Louise 
spoke with blunt disfavor, but her contemptuous cer- 
tainty of his guilt was plainly wavering. " To go and 
bring stolen cattle right down here " 

" It seemed to me they 'd be safer here than any- 
where else," Charlie observed naively. " Nobody ever 
comes down here, unknown to us. I had it sized up 
that the fellow who worked those brands would never 
dream we 'd bring the stock right into the Cove. Why, 
Miss Louise, even I would know better than to put our 
brand on top of Seabeck's and expect it to pass in- 
spection. If I wanted to steal cattle, I would n't go at 
it that way ! " 

Billy Louise glanced uncertainly at him and then at 
Marthy, facing her grimly. She did not know what 
to think, and she showed it. 

" How do you mean the real rustlers ? " She be- 
gan hesitatingly; and hesitation was not by any means 
a mental habit with Billy Louise. 

" I mean just what I said." Charlie's manner was 
becoming more natural, more confident. " I 've been 
riding through the hills a good deal, and I 've seen a 



280 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

few things. And I 've an idea the fellow got a little 
uneasy." He saw her wince a little at the word " fel- 
low," and he went on, with an impulsive burst of con- 
fidence. " Miss Louise, have you ever, in your riding 
around up above Jones Canyon, in all those deep little 
gulches, have you ever seen anything of a corral, up 
there?" 

Billy Louise held herself rigidly from starting at this. 
She bit her lips so that it hurt. " Whereabouts is it ? " 
she asked, without looking at him. And then : " I 
thought you would go to any length before you would 
accuse anybody." 

" I would. But when they deliberately try to hand 
me the blame and I 'm not accusing anybody any- 
body in particular, am I? The corral is at the head 
of a steep little canyon or gulch, back in the hills where 
all these bigger canyons head. Some time when you 're 
riding up that way, you keep an eye out for it. That," 
he added grimly, " is where Peter and I ran across 
these cattle ; right near that corral." 

The heart of Billy Louise went heavy in her chest. 
Was it possible? Doubts are harder to kill than cats 
or snakes. You think they 're done for, and here they 
come again, crowding close so that one can see noth- 
ing else. 

" Have you any idea at all, who it is ? " She 
forced the words out of her dry throat. She lifted her 
head defiantly and looked at him full, trying to read 
the truth from his eyes and his mouth. 

Charlie Fox met her look, and in his eyes she read 
pity yes, pity for her. " If I have," he said, with 
an air of gently deliberate evasion, " I '11 wait till I 



THE BILLY OF HER 281 

am dead sure before I name the man. I 'm not at all 
sure I 'd do it even then, Miss Louise ; not unless I 
was forced to do it in self-defense. That 's one reason 
why I brought the cattle down here. I did n't want 
to be placed in a position where I should be compelled 
to fight back." 

Billy Louise ran her gloved fingers, down the barrel 
of her gun, and stuck the weapon back in its holster. 
" I killed Surbus, Marthy," she said dully. " I had 
to. He came at me." 

Marthy turned heavily toward the spot which Billy 
Louise indicated with her downward glance. She had 
not seen the dog lying there half hidden by a berry 
bush. Marthy gave a grunt of dismay and went over 
to where Surbus lay huddled. Her hard old face 
worked with emotion. 

" You shot him, did yuh ? " Marthy's voice was 
harsh with reproach. " What did he do to yuh, that 
you had to go t' work and shoot him ? He warn't your 
dog, he was mine ! I must say you 're gittin' high-an'- 
mighty, Billy Louise, comin' here shootin' my dog and 
accusin' Charlie and me to our faces uh bein' thieves. 
And your maw not cold in 'er grave y.it! I must say 
you 're gitting too high-an'-mighty fer old Marthy. And 
me payin' fer your schoolin' and never gitting so much 
as a thankye fer it, and scrimpin' and savin' to make 
a lady out of yuh. And here you come in a tantrum, 
callin' me a thief right in my face! You knowed all 
along who worked them brands. If yuh don't, I kin 
mighty quick tell ye " 

" Now, Aunt Martha, never mind scolding Billy 
Louise; you know you think as much of her as you do 



282 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

of me, and that 's throwing a big bouquet at myself ! " 
Charlie went up and laid his arm caressingly over th 
old woman's shoulder. " You don't want to let this 
upset you, Aunt Martha. Surbus was a mean-tempered 
brute with strangers. You know that. I don't blame 
Miss Louise in the least. She was frightened when 
he came at her, and she had n't presence of mind 
enough to see he was only bluffing and would n't 
hurt " 

" Bluffing, was he ? " Billy Louise roused herself 
to meet this covert attack upon her courage. " So are 
you bluffing. And so is Marthy, when she says she 
paid for my " She stopped, confronting an accus- 
ing memory of mommie's mysterious silence about the 
school money, and her own passing curiosity which had 
never been satisfied. " Even if she did, I don't know 
why she need throw it up to me now. I never asked 
her for money. Nobody ever did. And that has noth- 
ing to do with Surbus, anyway. He 's a nasty, mean 
brute that ought to have been killed long ago. I 'm 
not a bit sorry. I 'm glad I did kill him." 
" Yes, I know yuh be. You 're hard as " 
" I would n't. talk about hardness, if I were you, 
Marthy ! What are you, right now and always ? 
Was I to blame for thinking those cattle had been 
stolen ? They 're in the Cove, with your brand on. 
And unless you pay Seabeck for them, you 're stealing 
them if you keep them. It doesn't matter who put 
the brand on ; you 're keeping the cattle. What do you 
call that, I 'd like to know ? They 're down here in 
the big corral now. If you mean to do what 's square, 
you '11 take them up to Seabeck's and explain " 



THE BILLY OF HER 283 

" Explain who it was ran our brand on ? " Charlie's 
voice was silk over iron. " I 'm afraid if I were forced 
into explanations, I 'd have to tell all I know, Miss 
Louise. Do you advise that really ? " 

" I don't advise anything." Baffled and angry and 
hurt to the very soul of her, Billy Louise opened the 
gate and went out. " It strikes me you Cove folks 
are not wanting advice these days, or needing it. If 
you know anything to tell, for heaven's sake don't hold 
back on my account ! It 's nothing to me, one way 
or the other. I 'm no rustler, and no friend of rustlers, 
if that 's what you 're hinting at." She left them with 
a proud lift to her chin and a very straight back, went 
to Blue, and mounted him mechanically. Billy Louise 
was " seeing red " just then. She rode back past the 
gate, the three were still standing there close together, 
talking. Billy Louise swung round in the saddle so 
that she faced them. 

" You need n't worry, Marthy, about that school- 
money," she called out angrily. " I '11 take your word 
for it and pay you back every cent, with legal rate of 
interest. And I 'm darned glad I did shoot Surbus ! " 

" Oh, say, Miss Louise ! " Charlie called placatingly. 
" Please don't go away feeling " 

" You go to the devil ! " Billy Louise flung back 

at him and touched Blue with her heel. " I hope that 

shocked some of the politeness out of him, anyway," 

she added grimly to herself. " Oh, I hate everything 

- Ward and God and all ! I hate life I hate it ! " 

She pulled Blue down to a walk and rode slowly for 
a couple of rods, fighting against the reaction that crept 
inexorably over her anger, chilling it and making it 



284 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

seem weak and unworthy. With a sudden impulse 
born of her stern instincts of justice, she jerked Blue 
around and galloped back. Charlie had disappeared, 
and Peter Howling Dog was walking sullenly toward 
the corraled cattle. Marthy was going slowly up the 
path to the cabin, looking old and bent and broken- 
spirited because of her bowed shoulders and stiff, rheu- 
matic gait, but harsh and unyielding as to her face. 
Billy Louise stopped by the fence and called to her. 
Marthy turned, stared at her sourly, and stood where 
she was. 

" Wall, what d'yuh want now ? " she asked uncom- 
promisingly. 

Billy Louise fought back an answering antagonism. 
She must be just; she could not blame Marthy for 
feeling hard toward her. She had insulted them hor- 
ribly and killed Marthy's dog. 

" I want to tell you I 'm sorry I was so mean, 
Marthy," she said bravely. " I have n't any excuse to 
make for it; only you must see yourself what a shock 
it would be to a person to find those cattle down here. 
But I know you 're honest, and so is Charlie. And I 
know you '11 do what 's right. I 'm sorry I told Char- 
lie to go to the devil, and I 'm sorry I shot your dog, 
Marthy." 

Apologies did not come easily to Billy Louise. She 
wheeled then and rode away at a furious gallop, be- 
fore Marthy could do more than open her grim lips 
for reply. 



CHAPTER XXIII 

BILLY LOUISE GETS A SUBPBISE 

FRIGHTENED, worried, sick at heart because 
her crowding doubts and suspicions had suddenly 
developed into black certainty just when she had thought 
them dead forever, Billy Louise rode up the narrow, 
rocky gorge. She had come to have a vague compre- 
hension of the temptation Ward must have felt. She 
had come to accept pityingly the possibility that the 
canker of old influences had eaten more deeply than 
appeared on the surface. She had set herself stanchly 
beside him as his friend, who would help him win 
back his self-respect. She felt sure that he must suffer 
terribly with that keen, analytical mind of his, when 
he stopped to think at all. He had no warped ethics 
wherewith to ease his conscience. She knew his ideas 
of right and wrong were as uncompromising as her own, 
and if he stole cattle, he did it with his eyes wide open 
to the wrong he was doing. And yet 

" That 's bad enough, but to try and fasten evidence 
on someone else ! " Billy Louise gritted her teeth over 
the treachery of it. She believed he had done that 
very thing. How could she help it ? She had seen the 
corral and had seen Ward ride away from it in the 
dusk of evening; or she believed she had seen him, 
which was the same thing. She knew that Ward's pros- 
perity was out of proportion with his visible resources. 



286 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

And she knew what lay behind him. Was his version 
of the past after all the correct one! Might not the 
paragraph she had burned been nothing more than the 
truth ? 

Billy Louise fought for him; fought with her stern, 
youthful judgment which was so uncompromising. It 
takes years of close contact with life to give one a sure 
understanding of human weakness and human endeavor. 

At the ford, when Blue would have crossed and taken 
the trail home, Billy Louise reined him impulsively 
the other way. Until that instant she had not intended 
to seek Ward, but once her fingers had twitched the 
reins against Blue's neck, she did not hesitate; she 
did not even argue with herself. She just glanced up 
at the sun, saw that it was not yet noon so much may 
happen in two or three hours ! and sent Blue up the 
hill at a lope. 

She did not know what she would do or what she 
would say when she saw Ward. She knew that she was 
full of bitterness and disappointment and chagrin. She 
had accused innocent persons of a crime. Ward had 
placed her in that position and compelled her to recant 
and apologize. She had offended Marthy beyond for- 
giveness and Charlie Fox. Her face burned with 
shame when she remembered the things she had said 
to them. Ward was the cause of that humiliation ; and 
Ward was going to know exactly what she thought of 
him ; beyond that she did not go. 

The two mares fed dispiritedly at the lowest corner 
of the field, their hair rough with exposure to the win- 
ter winds and the storms, their ribs showing. With 
all the hay he had put up. Ward might at least keep 



BILLY LOUISE SURPRISED '287 

his horses in better shape, Billy Louise censured, as 
she passed them by. A few head of cows and calves 
wandered aimlessly among the thinnest fringe of wil- 
lows along the creek; they showed more ribs than did 
the mares. Billy Louise pulled her lips tight. They 
did not look as though they had been fed a forkful 
of hay all winter ; your true range man or woman gets 
to know these things instinctively. 

Farther along, Billy Louise heard a welcoming nicker 
and turned her head. Here came Rattler, thin-flanked 
and rough-coated, trotting down a shallow gulley to 
meet Blue. The two horses chummed together when- 
ever Ward was at the Wolverine. Billy Louise pulled 
up and waited till Rattler reached her. He and Blue 
rubbed noses, and Blue laid back his ears and shook 
his head with teeth bared, in playful pretense of 
anger. Rattler kicked up his heels in disdain at the 
threat and trotted alongside them. 

Billy Louise rode with puckered eyebrows. Ward 
might neglect his stock, but he would never neglect 
Rattler like this. And he must be at home, since here 
was his horse. Or else . . . 

She struck Blue suddenly with her rein-ends and 
went clattering up the trail where the snow lay in 
shaded, crusty patches rimmed with dirt. The trail 
was untracked save by the loose stock. Where was 
Ward ? What had happened to him ? She looked again 
at Rattler. There was no sign of recent saddle-marks 
along his side, no telltale imprint of the cinch under 
his belly. Where was Ward ? 

Blind, unreasoning terror filled Billy Louise. She 
struck Blue again and plunged into the icy creek- 



288 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

crossing near the stable. She stopped there just long 
enough to see how empty and desolate it was, and 
how the horses and cattle had huddled against its shel- 
tering wall out of the biting winds ; and how the door 
was shut and fastened so that they could not get in. 
She opened it and looked in, and shut it again. Then 
she turned and ran, white-faced, to the cabin. Where 
was Ward? What had happened to Ward? Thief 
or honest man, treacherous or true what had hap- 
pened to him? 

Billy Louise saw the doorstep banked over with old, 
crusted snow. Her heart gave a jump and stopped 
still. She felt her knees shake under her. Her face 
seemed to pinch together, the flesh clinging close to 
the bones. Her whole being seemed to contract with 
the deadly fear that gripped her. It was like that chill 
morning when she had crept out of her cot and gone 
over to mommie's bed and had lifted mommie's hand 
that was hanging down. . . . 

She came to herself; she was running up the creek, 
away from the cabin. Running and stumbling over 
rocks, and getting tripped with her riding-skirt. She 
stopped, as soon as she realized what she was doing; 
she stopped and stood with her hands pressed hard 
against each side of her face, forcing herself to calm- 
ness again or at least to sanity. She had to go back. 
She told herself so, many times. " You 've got to go 
back ! " she repeated, as if to a second person. " You 
can't be such a fool ; you 've got to go back. And you 've 
got to go inside. You 've got to do it." 

So Billy Louise went back to the cabin, slowly, with 
shaking legs and a heart that fluttered and stopped, 



BILLY LOUISE SURPRISED 289 

fluttered and jumped and stopped, and made her stag- 
ger as she walked. She reached the doorstep and stood 
there with her palms pressing hard against her cheeks 
again. " You 've got to do it. You 've got to ! " she 
whispered to herself commandingly. 

She never doubted that Ward was inside. She 
thought she would find him dead dead and horrible, 
perhaps. No other solution seemed to fit the circum- 
stances. He was in there, dead. He had been dead 
for some time, because there were no saddle-marks on 
Rattler, and because the snow was crusted over the door- 
step with never a mark to break its smooth roundness. 
She had to go in. She was the person who must find 
him and do what she could. She must do it, because 
he was Ward her Ward. 

It took courage to open that door, but Billy Louise 
had courage enough to open it, and to step inside and 
close the door after her. She did not look at any- 
thing in the cabin while she did it, though. She kept 
her eyelids down so that she only saw the floor directly 
in front of the door. She had a sense of relief that 
it looked perfectly natural, though dusty. 

" Throw up your hands ! " came hoarsely from the 
bunk. Billy Louise gasped and pulled her gun, and 
dropped crouching to the floor. Also she looked up. 
She had not recognized that voice, and while she had 
never except in imagination faced an emergency like 
this, she had played robbers and rescues too often not 
to have formed a mental habit to fit the situation. What 
she did she had done many, .many times in her " pre- 
tend " world, sitting somewhere dreaming. 

From her crouching position she looked into Ward's 



290 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

fever-wild eyes. He was sitting up in the bunk, and 
he was pointing his big forty-five at her relentlessly. 
"Get up from there!" he ordered sternly. "Don't 
try any game like that on me, Buck Olney! Get up 
and go over and sit in that chair. I 've got a few 
things to say to you." 

Billy Louise somehow grasped the truth, up to a 
certain point. Ward was sick ; so sick he did n't know 
her. She thought she would better humor him. She 
got up and went and sat in the chair as he directed. 

Ward, keeping the gun pointing her way, sneered 
at her in a way that made the soul of Billy Louise 
crimple. She faced him big-eyed, too amazed at the 
change in him to feel any fear that he would harm her. 
He had whiskers two inches long. She would n't have 
known him except for his hair and that was terribly 
tousled ; and his eyes, though they were wild and angry. 
His voice was hoarse, and while he glared at her, he 
coughed with a hard, croupy resonance. 

" So you came back, did yuh ? " he asked grimly at 
last. " Well, you did n't get a chance to plug me in the 
back. How long did you lay up there on the bluff 
this time, waiting to catch me when I was n't looking ? 
I 've been wishing I 'd left that rope so it would have 
hung you, you damned ! " (Billy Louise lis- 
tened round-eyed to certain man-sized epithets strange 
to her ears.) 

" I suppose you and Foxy and that halfbreed have 
been fixing up some more evidence, huh ? You figure 
that I can't catch 'em this time and work the brands 
over, so they '11 stand Y6es, and I '11 get railroaded to 
the pen. Well, you 've overplayed your hand, old-timer. 



BILLY LOUISE SURPRISED 291 

I let you fellows down easy, last time. I don't reckon 
Foxy objected much to those few I turned back to him, 
and I don't reckon you did any kicking when you found 
I 'd cut the rope so it would n't hold your rotten carcass. 
You can't let well enough alone, though. You thought 
you 'd raise me, did you ? You thought you 'd come 
back and try another whack at me behind my back. 
You knew damned well I was n't the kind of man that 
would jump the country. You knew you 'd find me right 
here, attending to my business like I 've always done. 

" But you 've overplayed your hand. This time I 'm 
going to get you and Foxy and the breed along with 
you. It was a damned, rotten trick, running Y6es over 
Seabeck's brand. If I had n't caught you in the act, 
you 'd have planted them cattle where all hell could n't 
have saved me when they were found. If I had n't 
caught you at it and run MK monograms over the whole 
cheese, I 'd have been up against it for fair. So now 
you 're going to get what 's coming -to yuh. I won't 
take any chances on your not trying it again. I 'm 
going to protect myself right. 

" You throw that gun on the bed." (Billy Louise 
did so, her eyes still upon Ward's flushed face.) " Now, 
get down that tablet from the shelf. Here's a pencil." 
He drew one from under his pillow and tossed it to- 
ward her. " Now you write the truth about all this 
rustling. It 's a bigger thing than shows right in this 
neighborhood. I know that. And I know too that Foxy 
has been pulling down some- on the side. He never 
paid for all the stock that 's running around vented 
and rebranded MK. I 've got that sized up. Pretty 
smooth trick, too; a heap better than working brands. 



292 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

He ought to have been satisfied with that but a crook 
never is satisfied. I knew he was n't the tenderfoot he 
tried to make out, and when I saw some of his stock 
and that gate fixed to ring a bell when it was opened, 
I knew he was a crook. But he made a big mistake 
when he threw in with you, you 

" I want you to write down the truth about that 
Hardup deal ; who was in with you. I know, all right, 
but I want it down on paper. And I want to know 
how long Foxy 's been in with you, and who 's working 
the game on the outside. Get busy ; write it all down. 
I '11 give you all the time you need ; don't leave out 
anything. Dates and all, I want the whole graft. 
Don't try to get away. I 've got this gun loaded to 
the guards, and you know I 'm aching for an ex- 
cuse " He stopped and coughed again, hoarsely, 
rackingly. Then he lay quiet, except for his rasping 
breath and watched. 

Billy Louise, with the tablet on her trembling knees, 
pretended to write. From under her lashes she watched 
Ward curiously. She saw his attention waver, saw his 
eyes wander aimlessly about the room. She sat very 
still and waited, making scrawly marks that had no 
meaning at all. She saw Ward's fingers loosen on 
the revolver, saw his head turn wearily on the pillow. 
He was staring out through the window at the brilliant 
blue of the sky with the dazzling white clouds drifting 
like bits of cotton to the northward. He had forgotten 
her. 



CHAPTER XXIV 
THE HOOKIN'-COUGH MAN 

BILLY LOUISE waited another minute or two, 
weighing the possibilities. She saw Ward's fin-~ 
gers drop away from the gun, but they remained close 
enough for a dangerously quick gripping of it again, 
if the whim seized him. Still surely to goodness, 
Ward would never get crazy enough to hurt her ! Per- 
haps her feminine assurance of her hold on him, more 
than her courage, kept her nerves fairly steady. She 
bit the pencil absently, watching him. 

Ward turned his head restlessly on the pillow and 
coughed again. Billy Louise got up quietly, went close 
to the bed, and laid her hand on his forehead. His head 
was hot, and the veins were swollen and throbbing on 
his temples. 

" Brave Buckaroo got a headache ? " she queried 
softly, stroking his temples soothingly. " Got the 
hookin'-cough, too. Get every measly thing he can think 
of. Even got a grouch against the Flower of the 
Ranch-oh ! " Her voice was crooningly soft and sweet, 
as if she were murmuring over a sleepy baby. 

Ward closed his eyes, opened them, and looked up 
into her .face. One hand came up uncertainly and caught 
her fingers closely. " Wilhemina-mine ! " he said, in his 
hoarse voice. His eyes cleared to sanity under her 
touch. 



294 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Billy Louise drew a small sigh of relief and reached 
unobtrusively with her free hand for the gun. She slid 
it down away from his fingers, and when he still paid 
no attention, she picked it up quite openly and laid 
it against the footboard. Ward did not say anything. 
He seemed altogether occupied with the amazing reality 
of her presence. He clung to her fingers and looked 
at her with that intent stare of his, as if he were trying 
to hold her there by the sheer power of his will. 

" Well, how am I going to doctor you and feed you 
and make you all comfy, with one hand ? "' asked Billy 
Louise with quavering flippancy. 

"Kiss me!" 

" Ah might catch the hookin'-cough," bantered 
Billy Louise, leaning a bit closer. 

"Kiss me!" 

" Oh, well, I s'pose sick folks have to be humored." 
Billy Louise leaned closer still. " Mighty few kissy 
places left," she observed with the same shaky flippancy, 
a minute later. " Say, Ward, you look for all the 
world like old Sourdough Williams ! " Sourdough Wil- 
liams, it may be remarked, was a particularly hairy and 
unkempt individual who lived a more or less nomadic 
life in the hills, trapping. 

" You look like " Ward groped foggily for a 
simile. Angel was altogether too commonplace. 

" Like the lady who 's going to get busy right now, 
making you well. What have you been doing to your- 
self? Never mind; I don't want you talking your- 
self crazy again. Do you know you tried to shoot me 
up when I came in? And you made me start in to 
write a record of my sins. But that 's all right, see- 



THE HOOKIX'-COUGH MAN 295 

ing you 've got the hookin'-cough, I '11 forgive you this 
once. Lie still and let go my hand. I want to put 
a wet cloth on your head." 

" Did I " 

" You did ; and then some. Forget it. You Ve got 
a terrible cold ; and from the looks of things, you 've 
had it for about six months." Her eyes went com- 
prehensively about that end of the cabin, with the de- 
pleted cracker-box, the half-emptied boxes of peaches 
and tomatoes, and the buckets that were all but empty 
of water. She was shocked at the pitiful evidence of 
long helplessness. She did not quite understand. Surely 
Ward's cold had not kept him in bed so long. 

" Well, this is no time for mirth or laughter," she said 
briskly, to hide how close she was to hysteria, " since 
it looks very much like ' the morning after.' First, 
we 've got to tackle that fever of yours." She picked 
up a water-pail and started for the door. As she passed 
the foot of the bunk, she confiscated the two revolvers 
and took them outside with her. She had no desire 
to be mistaken again for Buck Olney. 

When she came back, Ward's eyes were wild again, 
and he started up in bed and glared at her. Billy Louise 
laughed at him and told him to lie down like a nice 
buckaroo, and Ward, recalled to himself by her voice, 
obeyed. She got the wash-basin and a towel and pre- 
pared to bathe his head. He wanted a drink. And 
when she held a cup to his lips and saw how greedily 
he drank, a little sob broke unexpectedly from her lips. 
She gritted her teeth after it and forced a laugh. 

" You 're sure a hard drinker," she bantered and 
wet her handkerchief to lay on his brow. 



296 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" That 's the first decent drink I Ve had for a month," 
he told her, dropping back to the pillow, refreshed to 
the point of clear thinking. " Old Lady Fortune 's still 
playing football with me, William. I've been laid 
up with a broken leg for about six weeks. And when 
I got gay and thought I could handle myself again, I 
put myself ou-t of business for awhile, and caught this 
cold before I came to and crawled back into bed. I 'm 
sure glad you showed up, old girl. I was get- 
ting up against it for fair." He coughed. 

" Looks like it." Billy Louise held herself rigidly 
back from any emotional expression. She could not 
afford to " go to pieces " now. She tried to think just 
what a trained nurse would do, in such a case. Her 
hospital experience would be of some use here, she 
told herself. She remembered reading somewhere that 
no experience is valueless, if one only applies the knowl- 
edge gained. 

" First," she said cheerfully, " the patient must be 
kept quiet and cheerful. So don't go jumping up and 
down on your broken leg, Ward Warren ; the nurse for- 
bids it. And smile, if it kills you." 

Ward grinned appreciatively. Sick as he was, he 
realized the gameness of Billy Louise; what he failed 
to realize was the gameness of himself. " I 'm a pretty 
worthless specimen, right now," he said apologetically. 
" But I 'm yours to command, Bill-the-Conk. You 're 
the doctor." 

" Nope, I 'm the cook, right now. I Ve got a hunch. 
How would you like a cup of tea, patient ? " 

" I 'd rather have coffee Doctor William." 

" Tea, you mean. I '11 have it ready in ten minutes." 



THE HOOKIN'-COUGH MAN 297 

Then she weakened before his imploring eyes. " You 
really ought n't to drink coffee, with that fever, Ward. 
But, maybe if I don't make it very strong and put 
in lots of cream We '11 take a chance, buckaroo ! " 

Ward watched her as intently as if his life depended 
on her speed. He had lain in that bunk for nearly six 
weeks with the coffee-pot sitting in plain sight on the 
back of the stove, twelve feet or so from his reach, 
and with the can of coffee standing in plain sight on 
the rough board shelf against the wall by the window. 
And he had craved coffee almost as badly as a drunkard 
craves whisky. 

The sound of the fire snapping in the stove was like 
music to him. Later, the smell of the coffee coming 
briskly to the boiling-point made his mouth water with 
desire. And when Billy Louise jabbed two little slits 
in a cream can with the point of a butcher knife and 
poured a thin stream of canned milk into a big, white 
granite cup, Ward's eyes turned traitor to his love for 
the girl and dwelt hungrily upon the swift movements 
of her hands. 

" How much sugar, patient ? " Billy Louise turned 
toward him with the tomato-can sugar-bowl in her 
hands. 

" None. I want to taste the coffee, this trip." 

" Oh, all right ! It 's the worst thing you could think 
of, but that 's the way with a patient. Patients always 
want what they must n't have." 

" Sure get it, too." Ward spoke between long, 
satisfying gulps. " How 's your other patient, Wil- 
hemina ? How 's mommie ? " 

" Oh, Ward ! She 's dead mommie 's dead ! " 



298 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Billy Louise broke down unexpectedly and completely. 
She went down on her knees beside the bed and cried 
as she had not cried since she looked the last time 
at mommie's still face, held in that terrifying calm. 
She cried until Ward's excited mutterings warned her 
that she must pull herself together. She did, some- 
how, in spite of her sorrow and her worry and that 
day's succession of emotional shocks. She did it be- 
cause Ward was sick very sick, she was afraid 
and there was so much that she must do for him. 

" You be s-still," she commanded brokenly, fighting 
for her former safe cheerfulness. " I 'm all right. Pity 
yourself, if you Ve got to pity somebody. I can 
stand my trouble. I have n't got any broken leg and 
hookin'-cough." She managed a laugh then and 
took Ward's hand from her hair and laid it down on 
the blankets. " Now we won't talk about things any 
more. You 've got to have something done for that 
cold on your lungs." She rose and stood looking down 
at him with puckered eyebrows. 

" Mommie would say you ought to have a good sweat," 
she decided. " Got any ginger ? " 

" I dunno. I guess not," Ward muttered con- 
fusedly. 

" Well, I '11 go out and find some sage, then, and 
give you sage tea. That 's another cure-all. Say, Ward, 
I saw Rattler down the creek. He 's looking fine and 
dandy. He came whinnying down out of that draw, 
to meet us; just tickled to death to see somebody." 

" Don't blame him," croaked Ward. " It 's enough 
to tickle anybody." Her voice seemed to steady his 
straying fancies. " How 're the cattle looking ? " 



THE HOOKIN'-COUGH MAN 299 

" Just fine," lied Billy Louise. " You 're the skin- 
niest thing I 've seen on the ranch. Now do you think 
you can keep your senses, while I go and pick some 
nice, good meddy off a sage bush ? " 

" I guess so." Ward spoke drowsily. " Give me 
some more coffee and I can." 

" Oh, you 're the pesteringest patient ! I told you 
coffee is n't good for what ails you, but I suppose " 
She poured him another cup of coffee, weakened it with 
hot water, and let him drink it straight. After all, per- 
haps the hot drink would induce the perspiration that 
would break the fever. She pulled up the wolf-skins and 
the extra blankets he had tossed aside in his feverish 
restlessness and covered him to his chin. 

" If you don't move till I come back," she promised, 
" I '11 maybe give you another cup after you 've filled 
up on sage tea." With that qualified hope to cheer him, 
she left him. 

She did not spend all her time picking sage twigs. 
A bush grew at the corner of the cabin within easy 
reach. She went first down to the stable and led Blue 
inside and unsaddled him. Rattler was standing near, 
and she tried to lead him in also, but he fled from 
her approach. She found the pitchfork and managed 
to scratch a few forkfuls of hay down from a corner 
of the stack; enough to fill a manger for Blue and to 
leave a little heap beside the stable for Rattler. 

When she was leaving the stable to return to the 
house, however, she changed her plan a little. She went 
back, carried the small pile of hay into the stable, and 
filled another manger. Then she took down the wire 
gate of the hay corral and laid it flat alongside the 



300 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

fence. Rattler would go in to the stack, and she would 
shut him in. That would simplify the catching of him 
when he was needed. She would find something in 
which to carry water to him, if he was too frisky to 
lead to the creek. Billy Louise was no coward with 
horses, but she recognized certain fixed limitations in 
the management of a snuffy brute like Rattler. He 
was not like Blue, whom she could bully and tease 
and coax. Rattler was distinctly a man's saddle-horse. 
Billy Louise had never done more than pat his shoul- 
der after. he was caught and saddled and, therefore, 
prepared for handling. She foresaw some perturbation 
of spirit in regard to Rattler. 

Ward was lying quiet when she went in, except that 
he was waving her handkerchief to and fro by the cor- 
ners to cool it. Billy Louise took it from him, wet it 
again with cold water, and scolded him for getting his 
arms from under the covers. That, she said, was no 
nice way for a hookin'-cough man to do. 

Ward meekly submitted to being covered to his eyes. 
Then he wriggled his chin free and demanded that she 
kiss him. Ward was fairly drunk with happiness be- 
cause she was there, in the cabin. The dreary weeks 
behind him were a nightmare to be forgotten. His Wil- 
hemina-mine was there, and she liked him to pieces. 
Though she had not affirmed it with words, her eyes 
when she looked at him told him so ; and she had kissed 
him when he asked her to. He wanted her to repeat 
the ecstasy. 

" Ward Warren, you 're a perfectly awful hookin'- 
cough man ! There. 'Now that 's going to be the very 
last one Oh, Ward, it is n't ! " She knelt and curved 



THE HOOKIN'-COUGH MAN 301 

an arm around his face and kissed him again and yet 
again. " I do love you, Ward. I 've been a weak- 
kneed, horrid thing, and I 'm ashamed to the middle 
of my bones. You 're my own brave buckaroo always 
always ! You Ve done what no other man would do, 
and you don't whine about it ; and I 've been weak and 
- horrid ; and I '11 have to love you about a million 
years before I can quit feeling ashamed." She kissed 
him again with a passion of remorse for her doubts of 
him. 

" Are you through being pals, Wilhemina ? " Ward 
broke rules and freed an arm, so that he could hold 
her closer. 

" No, I 'm just beginning. Just beginning right. 
I 'm your pal for keeps. But " 

" I love you for keeps, lady mine." Ward stifled 
another cough. " When are you going to marry 
me?" 

" Oh, when you get over the hookin'-cough, I s'pose." 
Once more Billy Louise, for the good of her patient, 
forced herself into safe flippancy that was not flip- 
pant at all, but merely a tender pretense. 

" Now it 's up to you to show me whether you are 
in any hurry at all to get well," she said. " Keep your 
hands under the covers while I make some tea. That 
fever of yours has got to be stopped immediately to 
once." 

She went over and busied herself about the stove, 
never once looking toward the bed, though she must 
have felt Ward's eyes worshiping her. She was ter- 
ribly worried about Ward; so worried that she put 
everything else into the background of her mind and 



302 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

set herself sternly to the need of breaking the fever 
and lessening the evident congestion in his lungs. 

She hunted through the cupboards and found a bot- 
tle of turpentine; syrupy and yellowed with age, but 
pungent with strength. She found some lard in a small 
bucket and melted half a teacupful. Then she tore 
up a woolen undershirt she found hanging on a nail 
and bore relentlessly down upon him. 

" You gotta be greased all over your lungs," she an- 
nounced with a matter-of-factness that cost her some- 
thing; for Billy Louise's innate modesty was only just 
topped by her good sense. 

Ward submitted without protest while she bared his 
chest as white as her own and applied the warm 
mixture with a smoothly vigorous palm. " That '11 fix 
the hookin'-cough," she said, as she spread the warm 
layers of woolen cloth smoothly from shoulder to shoul- 
der. " How does it feel ? " 

" Great," he assured her succinctly, and wisely omit- 
ted any love-making. 

" Will your game leg let you turn over ? Because 
there 's some dope left, and it ought to go between your 
shoulders." 

" The game leg ought to stand more than, that," he 
told her, turning slowly. " If I had n'l got this cold 
tacked onto me, I 'd have been trying to walk on it 
by now." 

" Better give it time since you Ve been game 
enough to lie here all this while and take care of it. 
I don't believe I 'd have had nerve enough for that, 
Ward." She poured turpentine and lard into her palm, 
readied inside his collar arid rubbed it on his shoul- 



THE HOOKIN'-COUGH MAN 303 

ders. " Good thing you had plenty of grub handy. 
But it must hare been awful ! " 

" It was pretty damned lonesome," he admitted lacon- 
ically, and that was as far as his complainings went. 

Billy Louise then poured the water off the sage leaves 
she had been brewing in a tin basin, carefully fished out 
a stem or two, and made Ward drink every bitter drop. 
Then she covered him to the eyes and hardened her 
heart against his discomfort, while she kept the hand- 
kerchief cool on his head and between times swept the 
floor with a carefully dampened broom and wiped the 
dust off things and restored the room to its most cheer- 
ful atmosphere of livableness. 

" Wan' a drink," mumbled Ward, with a blanket over 
his mouth and a raveled thread tickling his nose so 
that he squirmed. 

Billy Louise went over and laid her fingers on his 
neck. " I can't tell whether it 's grease or perspira- 
tion," she said, laughing a little. " What are you 
squinting up your nose for? Surely to goodness you 
don't mind that little, harmless raveling? If you 
would n't go on breathing, it would n't wiggle around 
so much ! " Nevertheless, she plucked the tormenting 
thread and threw it on the floor. 

" Gimme drink," Ward mumbled again. 

" There 's more sage tea " 

"Waugh!" 

" I suppose that means you are n't crazy about sage 

tea ! Well, I might give you a teenty-weenty speck more 

of coffee. You can't have water yet, you know. You Ve 

you 've got to sweat like a nigger in a cotton patch 

first." (Billy Louise could talk very nicely when she 



wanted to do so. The Billy of her could also be hu- 
manly inelegant when she felt like it, as you see.) 

Ward grunted something and afterwards signified that 
he would take the coffee and call it square. 

The next time she went near him, he was wrinkling 
his lean nose because beads of perspiration were stand- 
ing there and slipping occasionally down to his cheeks. 

" Fine ! You 're two niggers in a cotton patch now," 
she announced cheeringly. " And Mr. Hookin'-cough 
will have to hunt another home, I reckon. You were n't 
half as hoarse when you swore that last time." 

It was physically impossible for Ward to blush, since 
he was already the color of a boiled beet ; but he looked 
guilty when she uncovered the rest of his face and 
wiped off the gathered moisture. " I did n't think 
you 'd hear," he grinned embarrassedly. 

" I was listening for it, buckaroo. I 'd have been 
scared to pieces if you had n't cussed a little. I 'd 
have thought sure you were going to die. A man," 
she added sententiously, " always has a chance as long 
as he 's able to swear. It 's like a horse wiggling his 
ears." 

The comparison reminded her that she intended to 
shut Kattler in the hay corral ; she dried Ward's hands 
hastily, pulled the wolf-skins off the bed, and com- 
manded him to keep covered until she came back. She 
ran down bareheaded to the stable, saw Rattler indus- 
triously boring his nose into the stack, and put up the 
gate. 

When she went into the cabin again, Ward gave a 
start and opened his eyes like one who has been dozing. 
Billv Louise smiled with gratification. He was better. 



THE HOOKIN'-COUGH MAN 305 

She knew he was better. She did not speak, but went 
over to the stove and pretended to be busy there, though 
she was careful to make no noise. When she turned 
finally and glanced toward the bed, Ward was asleep. 

Billy Louise took a deep breath, tiptoed over" to the 
bench beside the table, sat down, and pillowed her head 
on her folded arms. She wanted to cry, and she needed 
to think, and she was deadly, deadly tired. 



CHAPTER XXV 

THE WOLF JOKE 

BILLY LOUISE stayed all night. She was afraid 
to leave Ward until his cold was safely better, 
and there was no one living near enough to summon; 
no one whom she wanted to summon, in fact, however 
close they might have been. She spent most of the 
night curled comfortably on the wolf-skins beside the 
stove, with a sack of flour for a pillow and Ward's fur 
coat for covering. Ward slept more unbrokenly than 
he had done for a long time, while Billy Louise lay 
cuddled under the smelly fur and thought and thought. 

In ,the morning, if Ward were well enough, she meant 
to ask him about those cattle he had mentioned when 
he thought her Buck Olney. They were the same ones 
which she had seen in the Cove, she knew. Ward had 
told enough to prove that. He had, in fact, told nearly 
all she needed to know except the mystery of his 
prosperity. He had not mentioned that, and Billy 
Louise was more curious than ever about his " wolf 
hunting." 

At sunrise she rebuilt the fire and made fresh coffee 
and a stew from the pieces of jerky she had soaked over- 
night for the purpose. She wanted eggs, and bread 
for toast, and fresh cream; but she did not have them, 
and so she managed a very creditable breakfast for her 
patient without these desirables. 



THE WOLF JOKE 807 

" Say, that 's great. A fellow does n't appreciate 
coffee and warm food until he 's eaten out of cans and 
boxes for a month or so. You 're a great little lady, 
Wilhemina. I wish you 'd happened along sooner 
about six weeks sooner. I 'd have got some pleasure 
out of my broken leg then, maybe." 

" Was it did Buck Olney break it ? " Billy Louise 
knew he had not, but she had been waiting for a chance 
to open the subject. 

" No. I broke it myself, pulling Rattler off a bank 
into some rocks. I believe I could walk on it, doctor, 
if you could rustle me something to use for crutches. 
That 's what held me in bed so long. Reckon you could 
manufacture a pair for me ? " His eyes made love. 
" You 've done everything else." He caught her hand 
and kissed the palm of it. " Can't the Billy part turn 
carpenter ? " 

" I '11 see. Say, Ward, do you think you could shave 
off those whiskers if I got everything ready for you ? I 
don't like you to look like old Sourdough. Or maybe 
I could do it. I I used to shave daddy 's neck, some- 
times." 

Ward ran his fingers thoughtfully over his hairy 
cheeks. " I expect I do look like a prehistoric ancestor. 
I '11 see what I can do about it. I set my own leg ; I 
guess I can shave myself. You 're a great doctor, Wil- 
hemina. You knocked that cold up to a peak, all right. 
But I don't believe you 'd better tackle barbering, 
my dear girl." 

Billy Louise pouted her lips at him. She could af- 
ford to pout now: Ward was so like himself that she 
did not worry over him at all. She also felt that she 



308 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

could afford to badger him into telling her some of 
the things she wanted to know. 

" Where did you hang Buck ? " she asked naively. 

" Huh ? " Ward's eyes bored into hers with his in- 
tent look, trying to read her thoughts. 

" Where was it you hanged Buck Olney? " 

" Nowhere. I put the fear of the Lord into him, 
that 's all. How did you hear about it ? " 

" From you." Billy Louise was maddeningly calm. 
" You told me all about it yesterday. And about those 
cattle in the corral up here. I found them yesterday 
myself, Ward only it seems a month ago ! down 
in the Cove." 

"Did you?" 

" Yes, and .1 drove them up to the corral and read 
the riot act to Marthy and Charlie Fox " 

" Huh ! What did they say ? " 

" Oh, they denied it, of course ! What are we going 
to do about it, Ward ? " 

" Nothing, I guess. What did you want to do ? " 

" I don't know. I don't want to hurt them, and I 
don't want them to hurt anyone else. Do you know 
Seabeck ? He 's an awfully square old fellow. I be- 
lieve " An idea formed vaguely in the back of 
Billy Louise 's mind. " I believe I could persuade 
him " 

" I believe you could persuade the devil himself, if 
you took a notion to try," Ward affirmed sincerely, when 
she hesitated. " What do you want to persuade him 
into?" 

" Oh, nothing, I guess ! How do you feel, Ward ? 
We 've got to stick to the job of getting you fit to leave 



THE WOLF JOKE 309 

here and go on down to the ranch with me. When do 
you think you could manage to ride ? " 

Ward looked longingly out of the window, just as he 
had been looking for six weeks. " I think I could man- 
age it now," he said doggedly, because of his- great 
longing. " I set my own leg " 

" Yes, and I 'm willing to admit you 're a wonder, 
and have gotten the stoics beaten at their own game. 
Still, there 's a limit to what the human body will stand. 
I 'rn going down to tend the horses, and if you think 
you can walk without hurting your leg, I '11 hunt some 
forked sticks for crutches. We '11 see how you make out 
with them, first, before we talk about riding twenty 
miles on horseback. Besides, you'd catch more cold 
if you went out to-day." 

While she talked, her plans took definite shape in the 
back of her mind. She took Buck Olney's knife that 
was lying on the window-sill and went in search of 
crutches among the willows along the creek. Forked 
sticks were plentiful enough, but it was not so easy to 
find two that would support even so skinny a man as 
Ward. She compromised by cutting four that seemed 
suitable and binding them together in couples. 

When she went in with her makeshifts, Ward was sit- 
ting upon the side of the bunk, clothed and in his right 
mind but pitifully wobbly and ashamed of his weak- 
ness. 

" You should n't have tried to get up yet," she 
scolded. " Do you want to be worse, so I '11 have to 
cure you all over again ? " Then, woman-like, she pro- 
ceeded to annul the effect by petting and sympathy. 

It was while she was sitting in the one chair, padding 



310 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

the sticks crudely enough but effectively, that Ward, 
gazing at her with the light of love in his eyes, thought 
of something he had meant to tell her. 

" Oh, by the way, I 've got something for you, Wil- 
hemina," he said. " Put down that thing and come 
over here. I want to shave before I take a try at walk- 
ing, anyway. See here, lady-mine. How would you 
like these strung on a gold chain ? " 

From under his pillow he drew out a tobacco sack 
and emptied the contents into her palm. " Those are 
your Christmas present, Bill-Loo. Like 'em ? " 

" Do I ! " Billy Louise held up the biggest one and 
stared at it round-eyed. " Gold nuggets ! Where in 
the world " 

" That 's what I 'm going to tell you now you 're 
through being just pals. Oh, I 'd have told you, any- 
way, I reckon, only the play never came right, after 
that first little squabble we had over it." He put an 
arm around her, pulled her down beside him, and rubbed 
his bristly chin over her hair. " That 's the wolf joke, 
William. I did make a lot of money wolfing on the 
square. I dug out a den of pups and struck a little 
pocket of pretty rich gravel. I Ve been busy panning 
it out all the time I could spare, till the creek froze 
up." 

" You found a gold mine ? " Billy Louise gasped. 
" Why, whoever would have thought " 

" Oh, I would n't call it a gold mine, exactly," he 
hastened to assure her, before her imagination dazzled 
her. " There is n't enough of it. It 's just a pocket. 
I Ve cleaned up about eighteen hundred dollars, this 
summer, besides these nuggets. Maybe more. Ana 



THE WOLF JOKE 311 

there 's some left yet. I found both ends of the streak ; 
it lies along a ledge on the side of a gully. I could n't 
find anything except in that one streak of gravel; and 
when that 's gone she 's done, as near as I can figure. 
But it is n't all gone yet, lady mine. There 's e'nough 
left to pay the preacher, anyway. That big fellow 
I found along toward the last, just before I quit work- 
ing." He kissed her gravely. " Poor old girl ! She 's 
dead game, all right, and she 's kind of had the cards 
stacked against her from the start. But things are 
going to come easier from now on, if I 'm any prophet. 
It 's too bad " 

Billy Louise read his thought. 

" Mommie looked so peaceful, Ward. At the last, 
I mean. If I could have waked her up, I don't believe 
I 'd have had the heart to do it. She never was very 
happy ; you know that. She could n't seem to see the 
happiness in little things. So many are like that. And 
she looked happier at the last than I ever saw her 
look before. So I 'm happier, too since yester- 
day." 

" Are you ? " Ward dropped his face against her 
hair and held it there for a minute. It was not his 
cold altogether that had made his voice break hoarsely 
over those two words. 

" Do you know " Billy Louise was lifting the nug- 
gets one after the other and letting them drop to her 
lap " happiness is like gold, Ward. We Ve got to 
pan it out of life ourselves. If we try to steal it from 
someone else, we pay the penalty, don't you think ? And 
so many go looking and looking for great big chunks 
of it all all whatever they do to it." She laughed 



312 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

a little at her ignorance of the technical process. " You 
see what I mean, don't you ? We get a streak of gravel ; 
that 's life. And we can pan out happiness if we try - 
little nuggets and sometimes just colors but it keeps 
us hoping and working." 

" Doctor of philosophy ! " Ward kissed her hair. 
" You 're a great little girl, all right. And I 'm the 
buckaroo that has struck a mighty rich streak of pay 
dirt in life, Wilhemina. I 'm panning out happiness 
millions to the pan right now." 

Billy Louise, attacked with a spasm of shyness, went 
abruptly back to padding the makeshift crutches and 
changed the subject. 

" I 'm going home, soon as I fix you comfy," she said. 

Whereupon Ward protested most strenuously and 
did not look in the least like a man who has just an- 
nounced himself a millionaire in happiness. 

" What for ? " he demanded, after he had exhausted 
himself to no purpose in telling her that she should 
not leave the cabin until he could go along. 

" I want eggs for you, you ungrateful beast. And 
some bread for toast. And I want to tell Phoebe 
and John where I am." 

" You think those Injuns are going to hurt them- 
selves worrying? I don't want any eggs and toast. 
I 've managed all right on crackers and jerky for six 
weeks, so I guess I can stand it a few hours longer. 
Still, if you 're crazy to go " He dropped back on 
the pillow and turned his face. away. 

Billy Louise worked silently until she had made the 
crutches as soft on top as she could. Then she hunted 
for Ward's razor and shaving-cup and after one or two 



THE WOLF JOKE 313 

failures through using too much water she man- 
aged to make a cup of very nice lather. 

" !N"ow, buckaroo, don't be a sulky kid," she said, 
firmly as she could. " You know it 's hard enough for 
me to go off and leave you here like this. But, as you 
say, you 've managed to get along for six weeks with- 
out me, so " 

" Sure. I could do it again, I reckon." Ward turned 
a gloomy pair of eyes upon her. " What 's the rush f 
Do you think it is n't proper " 

" It 's always proper to do what is right and help- 
ful and kind," said Billy Louise with dignity, because 
she had made up her mind and was trying not to 
weaken. " I 've lived in this country all my life, and 
I guess my reputation will stand this little strain," she 
went on lightly, " even if anyone finds it out. I Ve 
got to go, that 's all. Those people in the Cove " 
It was eloquent of her stern justice that she could not 
bring herself to speak them by name. 

" You are n't going to turn them over to the sheriff, 
are you, William ? Good Lord, girl \ If I can " 

" Your lather is getting cold," Billy Louise said 
evenly. " I ought to have known better than mention 
the subject at all. I 'm going to do what 's right. I 
believe I have some faint idea of right and wrong, 
Ward Warren. And I 'm not going to do anything 
that I don't feel is right, or anything that I '11 be 
sorry for. You might trust me, I think. It's early 

yet " 

" You '11 come back before night, won't you ? " From 
his tone, Ward had yielded the point and was minded 
to yield with what graciousness he could command. It 



314 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

had occurred to him that he was behaving like a self- 
ish booby. Billy Louise should not call him weak-kneed, 
whatever happened. 

" No, I don't think I can, Ward. I might send 
John." 

" You need n't bother. I don't want John." 

" Well, I don't suppose he would be much comfort. 
I '11 make a pot of coffee, Ward, and I '11 fill the lan- 
tern and fix it so you can heat a cup when you want 
to ; how will that be ? " She brightened a little at the 
idea. " And I '11 fix your lungs up again before I go 
and bake some nice, hot biscuits and put here, and but- 
ter, and fix you just as comfy as possible. Or, if you 
can manage to get around with the crutches, all the 
better. I '11 leave things so you won't have to go out- 
side for a thing. 

" And, Ward " she bent over him anxiously 
" I 'm going because I must. For all our sakes I 
must go right away. And I '11 come back to-morrow 
just as early as I can get here. So if you are real 
good, and take care of your cold, and get a little strong 
about walking, you can go back with me. And to- 
morrow night you can sit in daddy's chair before the 
fireplace, and we '11 have chicken and ' 

" All right all right ! " Ward laughed suddenly. 
" Will you give me a lump of sugar and let me look 
at all the pitty pittys in the album ? Oh, you William 
the Conqueror ! " He caught her close, when he saw 
that he had hurt her feelings a little, and held her a 
minute. " When I get two good legs under me, Wil- 
hemina," he promised softly, " I 'm going to stake my- 
self to the job of taking care of you. Your cheeks are 



THE WOLF JOKE 315 

pretty thin, little lady-girl. Damn the luck, any- 
way!" 

" Here 's the lather. I 'm going down and saddle up," 
said Billy Louise. " When I come back, we '11 see how 
the crutches work." 

" Oh, say ! " Ward called after her. " My saddle 's 
behind a buck bush up along the trail where the bank 
is cut straight. I forgot about that. And would you 
mind bringing the looking-glass, William? How the 
deuce do you think a man 's going to shave without 
a glass? And that old paper to wipe the lather on, 
while you 're at it. I see the Billy of you has n't got 
to the shaving-point yet, at any rate ! " 

Billy Louise took down the glass and flung it on 
the bed, threw the newspaper after it, and departed 
with her chin in the % air to find his saddle and bridle 
and carry them to the stable. 

Ward, sitting up in bed, stared at the closed door 
remorsefully. W T hen he was convinced that she did not 
intend to return even for the last word which is so 
tempting to a woman, he reached for the glass, held 
it up, and looked within. 

" Sufferin' saddle blankets ! " he grunted and dropped 
the glass. " And she could kiss a mug like that ! " 



CHAPTER XXVI 

"HM-MM!" 

FLOYD CARSON was a somewhat phlegmatic 
young man, but he swore an astonished oath when 
he saw Billy Louise galloping along the lane that led 
nowhere except to the womanless abode of Samuel Sea- 
beck. He walked very fast to the stable, which was 
the first logical stopping-place, and so he met Billy 
Louise before she had time to dismount, even suppos- 
ing she intended to do so. 

" Hello, Floyd ! Is Mr. Seabeck at home ? " Billy 
Louise was not one to waste time in the superfluities 
of speech when she had anything on her mind. 

" Sure. Get off, and I '11 put up your horse. We 're 
just through eatin', but our grub carpenter will rustle 
something for yuh, all right." 

" No, I can't stop this time. I 'm not hungry, any- 
way. Just give a yell for Mr. Seabeck, will you? I 
want to see him a minute." 

Floyd eyed her uncertainly, decided that Billy Louise 
was not in the mood to yield to persuasion, and tact- 
fully hurried off to find Seabeek without shouting for 
him lest he bring others also, who were evidently not 
wanted at all. He took it that Billy Louise felt some 
diffidence about visiting a strictly bachelor outfit, and 
he set himself to relieve her of any embarrassment. 

Presently Seabeck himself came from the dirt-roofed, 



"HM-MM!" 317 

rambling cabin which was his home and strode down 
the path, buttoning his coat as he came. Floyd's face 
showed for a minute in the doorway before he effaced 
himself completely, and not another man was in sight 
anywhere. Billy Louise was grateful to circumstance; 
she had dreaded this visit, though not for the reason 
Floyd Carson believed. 

" How de do, Miss MacDonald ? Pretty nice day, 
but I 'm afraid it 's a weather-breeder. The wind 's try- 
ing to change, I notice." 

" Yes, and so I must n't stop. Could you ride part 
way home with me, Mr. Seabeck ? I want to talk 
with you about something. And I can't stop a min- 
ute. I must get home." 

" Why, certainly, I '11 go. If you '11 wait just a min- 
ute while I saddle up or if you 'd rather ride on, I '11 
overtake you." 

" I '11 ride on, I think. Blue hates standing around, 
and he 's a little warm, too. You 're awfully good, Mr. 
Seabeck " 

" Oh, not at all ! " Seabeck stubbed his toe on the 
stable doorsill in his confusion at the praise. " I '11 be 
right along, soon as I can slap a saddle on." He disap- 
peared, and Billy Louise turned and loped slowly down 
the lane. 

So far, so good. Billy Louise tried to believe that 
it was all going to be as plain sailing as this fortuitous 
beginning, but she was aware of a nervous fluttering 
in her throat while she waited, and she knew that she 
positively dreaded hearing Seabeck gallop up behind 
her on the frozen trail. " Why will people do things 
that make a lot of trouble for others ? " she cried out 



318 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

petulantly. And then she heard the steady pluck, 
pluckety-pluck of Seabeck's horse, and twisted her lips 
with a whimsical acceptance of the part she had set 
herself to play. She might smash things, she told 
herself, but at the worst it would be only a premature 
smash. " Come, Bill," she adjured herself, pretending 
it was what Ward would have said, had he looked into 
her mind. " Be a Bill-the-Conk and a good one ! 
Shove in your chips and play for all there is in it." 

" You must have some lightning method of saddling, 
Mr. Seabeck," she smiled over her shoulder at him when 
he came up. 

" We learn to do things quick when we 've handled 
cattle a few years," he admitted. He had a diffident 
manner of receiving compliments which pleased Billy 
Louise and gave her confidence a needed brace. She 
was not a skilled coquette; she was too honest and too 
straightforward for that. Still, nature places certain 
weapons in the hands of a woman, and instinct shows 
her how to use them. Seabeck, from his very unac- 
customedness to women, seemed to her particularly 
pliable. Billy Louise took her courage in both hands 
and went straight to the point. 

" Mr. Seabeck, I 've always heard that you 're an 
awfully square man," she said. " Daddy seemed to 
think that you could be depended on in any kind of a 
pinch. I hope it 's true. I 'm banking a lot on your 
squareness to-day." 

" Why, I don't know about my being any better than 
my neighbors," he said, with a twinkle of humor in 
his eyes, which were a bright, unvarying blue. " But 
you can bank on my doing anything I can for you, Miss 



"HM-MM!" 319 

MacDonald. I think I could be even better than 
square to help a plucky little girl who " 

" I don't mean just the ordinary squareness," Billy 
Louise put in quietly. " I mean bigness, too ; a big- 
ness that will make a man be more than square ; .a big- 
ness that will let him see all around a thing and judge 
it from a bigger viewpoint than mere justice " 

" Hm-mm if you could trust me enough to " 

" I 'm going to, Mr. Seabeck. I 'm going to take it 
for granted you 're bigger than your own squareness. 
And if you 're not if you 're just a selfish, weak, 
letter-perfect, honest man, I '11 feel like thrashing 
you." Without a doubt that was the Billy of her 
which spoke. 

" I '11 take the thrashing if you think I need it," 
he promised, looking at her with something more than 
admiration. " What have you done, Miss MacDonald ? 
If I can help you hide the body " 

" There ! " Billy Louise dared to wrinkle her nose 
at him and I don't know which of her did it. " I 
knew you 'd play up like a good sport. But what if it 
is n't a body ? What if what if you found some 
of your cattle with with a big D run over your 
brand ? " She had a perfectly white line around her 
mouth and nostrils then, but she faced him squarely. 

" Hm-mm ! " Seabeck gave her a quick, sidewise 
glance and pulled thoughtfully at the graying whiskers 
that pointed his chin. " I would have been glad to 
lend you money, or help you in any way." 

" Yes, I know." Billy Louise snapped her reins im- 
patiently. " But what would you do about the 
cattle ? " 



320 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" What could I do ? What would you want me to 
do? I should do whatever would help you. I 
would " 

" Wpuld you be as ready to help somebody else ? 
Somebody I thought a lot of ? " 

Seabeck, evidently, saw light. He cleared his throat 
and spat gravely into a bush. " I see you don't trust 
me, after all," he said. 

" I do. I 've got to ; I mean, I 'd have to whether I 
did or not. It 's like this, Mr. Seabeck. It is n't the 
big D brand ; of course you knew it could n't be. But 
it isn't yours, either. Someone was tempted and was 
weak. They 're sorry now. They want to do the right 
thing, and it rests with you whether they can do it. 
You can shut them up in jail if you like; you have 
a perfect right to do it. Some men would do that 
and be able to sleep after it, I suppose. But I be- 
lieve you 're bigger than that. I believe you 're big 
enough to see that if a person goes wrong and then 
sees the mistake and wants to pull back into the straight 
trail, a man even the one who has been wronged 
would be committing a moral crime to prevent it. To 
take a person who wants to make a fresh, honest start, 
and shut that person up amongst criminals and brand 
him as a criminal, seems to me a worse wrong than to 
steal a few head of cattle; don't you think so, Mr. 
Seabeck?" 

What Mr. Seabeck thought did not immediately ap- 
pear in speech. He was pulling a little harder at his 
whiskers and staring at the ears of his horse. 

" That would depend on the person," he said at last. 
" Some men are born criminals." 



"HM-MM!" 321 

" Oh, we are n't talking about that kind of a man. 
Surely to goodness you don't call Charlie Fox a born 
criminal, or Marthy Meilke ? " 

" Charlie Fox ! Is that the person you mean, who 
has been " 

" Yes, it is ! And he is horribly sorry, and so is 
Marthy, and they '11 pay you for the cattle. And if 
you do anything mean about it, it will simply kill poor 
old Marthy. You could n't send her to the pen, Mr. 
Seabeck. Think how she 's worked there in the Cove ; 
and Charlie has worked like a perfect slave; and he 
was trying to get a start so he could get mar- 
ried " 

" Hm-mm ! " Eumors had reached Seabeck, thanks 
to Billy Louise's dropped lashes upon a certain occa- 
sion, which caused him to believe he saw further 
light. 

" And if you 're going to be horrid " 

" Will the lady he wants to marry give him an- 
other chance ? " 

" Don't you think she ought to if she 1-loves him ? " 
Billy Louise studied the skyline upon the side farthest 
from Seabeck. 

'" You say he wants to pay for the cattle and " 

" He '11 do anything he can to make amends," said 
Billy Louise, with conviction. a He '11 take his medi- 
cine and go to jail if you insist," she added sorrow- 
fully. " It will ruin his whole life, of course, and 
break a couple of women's hearts, but " 

" It 's a bad thing, a mighty bad thing, when a man 
tries to get ahead too fast." 

" It 's a good thing when he learns the lesson with- 



322 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

out having to pay for it with his whole future," Billy 
Louise amended the statement. 

Seabeck smiled a little behind his fingers that kept 
tugging at his whiskers. , 

" Did Charlie Fox send Miss Portia " 

" He does n't know I had any intention of coming/' 
Billy Louise assured him quickly and with perfect 
truth. " They '11 both be awfully surprised when they 
find it out " which was also perfectly true " and 
when they see you ride up, they '11 think you Ve got 
the sheriff at your back. I have n't a doubt they " 

" There are a few points I 'd like to clear up, if you 
can help me," Seabeck interrupted. " All this rustling 
that has been going on for the past year and a half: 
are Fox and the Meilke woman mixed up in that? I 
want," he said, " to help the young man and her. 
But if they have been operating on a large scale, I 'm 
afraid " 

" I believe Charlie must have been influenced in some 
ways by bad acquaintances," Billy Louise answered 
more steadily than she felt. " But his rustling 
has been of a petty kind. I won't apologize for him, 
Mr. Seabeck. I think it 's perfectly awful, what he 
has done. But I think it would be more awful still 
not to give him a chance. The other rustling is some 
outside gang, I 'm sure. If Charlie was mixed up 
with them, it 's very slightly just enough to damn 
him utterly if he were arrested and tried. He is n't a 
natural criminal. He 's just weak. And he 's learned 
his lesson. It 's up to you, Mr. Seabeck, to say whether 
he shall have a chance to profit by the lesson. And 
there 's poor old Marthy in it, too. She just worships 



"HM-MM!" 323 

Charlie and would do anything even steal for 
him." 

Seabeck meditated for a mile, and Billy Louise 
watched him uneasily from the tail of her eye. To 
tell the plain truth, she was in a panic of fear at what 
she had done. It had looked so simple and so prac- 
ticable when she had planned it; and now when the 
words were out and the knowledge had reached Sea- 
beck and was beyond her control, she could not think 
of any good reason for telling him. 

Last night, when she lay curled up by the stove un- 
der * Ward's wolf-skin coat, this seemed the only pos- 
sible way out: To tell Seabeck and trust to his kind- 
ness and generosity to refrain from pushing the case. 
To have Charlie Fox give back what he had stolen 
or pay for it anything that would satisfy Seabeck's 
sense of justice and let him start honestly. She 
had thought that Seabeck would be merciful, if she 
told him in the right way; but now, when she stole 
a glance at his bent, brooding face, she was fright- 
ened. He did not look merciful, but stern and angry. 
She remembered then that stealing cattle is the one 
crime a cattleman finds it hard to forgive. 

Billy Louise might have spared herself some mental 
anguish if she could have known that Seabeck was 
brooding over the wonder of a woman's love that par- 
dons and condones a man's sins. He was wishing that 
such a love as Billy Louise's had come to him, and 
ho was wondering how a man could be tempted to go 
wrong when such a girl loved him. He was laboring 
under a misapprehension, of course. Billy Louise had 
permitted him to misunderstand her interest in the 



324 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

matter. If he had known that she was pleading solely 
for Marthy poor, avaricious, gray, old Marthy 
perhaps his mercy would have been less tinged with 
that smoldering resentment which was directed not o 
much at the wrongdoer, as at fate which had cheated 
him. 

"I'm glad you came and told me this," he said at 
last. " Very glad, indeed, Miss MacDonald. Certain 
steps have been taken lately to push this wipe out 
this rustling and general lawlessness, and if you had 
not told me, I 'm afraid the mills of justice would 
have ground your friends. Of course the law would 
be merciful to Mrs. Meilke. No jury would send an 
old woman like that By the way, that breed they 
have had working for them he is in the deal, too; 1 
take it." 

" Yes, of course. They had to have someone to help. 
Marthy can't do any riding." Billy Louise spoke with 
a dreary apathy that betrayed how the reaction had set 
in. " She stayed in the Cove, in case anyone came 
prowling down there. It seems there 's a wire fastened 
to the gate, and it rings a bell down at the house 
somewhere when the gate is opened. And besides that 
she had a dog that would tackle strangers. I don't 
believe," she went on, after a little silence, il that 
Marthy would have turned dishonest for herself. She 
was grasping, and all she cared for was getting ahead. 
It sort of grew on her, after the years of trying 
to dig a bare living out of the ground. I can un- 
derstand that; and I can see how she would go to any 
length almost for Charlie. But " 

" Well, let 's not think any more about them until 



"HM-MM!" 325 

we have to." There was a certain crude attempt at 
soothing her anxieties. " You J ve trusted me, Miss Mac- 
Donald. I '11 try and not disappoint you in the mat- 
ter, though, unless they are quite separate from the 
gang which is being run down, it may be hard -to pro- 
tect them. Do you know whether any other cow- 
man has suffered from their mm-mm haste to get 
rich?" 

" I don't think there 's anyone but you," Billy Louise 
replied lifelessly. 

" Hm-mm do you know, Miss MacDonald, whether 
there was any intimacy between your friends and 
the man we had for stock inspector, Mr. Olney ? " 

"I can't say, as to that." Billy Louise, you see, 
did not know much about details, but the little she did 
know made her hedge. 

" There 's a queer story about Olney. You know he 
has left the country, don't you ? It seems he rode very 
hurriedly up to the depot at Wilmer to take the train. 
Just as he stepped on, a fellow who knew him by sight 
noticed a piece of paper pinned on the back of his coat. 
He jerked it loose. It was a m-m very peculiar 
document for a man to be wearing on his back." Sea- 
beck pulled at his whiskers, but it was not the pulling 
which quirked the corners of his lips. " The man said 
Olney seemed greatly upset over something and had 
evidently forgotten the paper until he felt it being pulled 
loose. He said Olney looked back then, and he was 
the color of a pork-rind. The train was pulling out. 
The man took the paper over to a saloon and let sev- 
eral others read it. They mm-mm decided that 
it should be placed in the hands of the authorities. 



326 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Have m-m your friends ever mentioned the 
matter to you ? " 

" No," said Billy Louise, and her eyes were wide. 

" Hm-mm ! We must discover, if we can, Miss Mac- 
Donald, whether they are in any way implicated with 
this man Olney. I believe that this is at present more 
important than the recovery of any m-m cattle of 
mine which they may have appropriated." 

Billy Louise looked at him for a minute. " Mr. 
Seabeck, you 're awfully dear about this ! " she told 
him. " I have n't been as square as you ; and I 've 
been Listen here, Mr. Seabeck ! I don't love Char- 
lie Fox a bit. I love somebody else, and I 'm going 
to marry him. He 's so square, I 'd hate to have him 
think I even let you believe something that was n't true. 
It 's Marthy I 'm thinking of, Mr. Seabeck. I was 
afraid you would n't let Charlie off just for her sake, 
but I thought maybe if you just thought I wanted 
you to do it for mine, why, maybe with two women 
to be sorry for, you 'd kind of " 

"Hm-mm!." Seabeck sent her a keen, blue, twin- 
kling glance that made Billy Louise turn hot all over 
with shame and penitence. " Hm-mm ! " he said again 
if one can call that a saying and pulled at his" gray- 
ing whiskers. " Hm-mmm ! " 



CHAPTEE XXVII 

MAETHY 

BILLY LOUISE led the way down the gorge, 
'through the meadow, and along the orchard to the 
little gate. The Cove seemed empty and rather forlorn, 
with the wind creeping up the river and rattling the 
dry branches of the naked fruit trees. Not much more 
than twenty-four hours had slid into the past since 
Billy Louise had galloped away from the place, yet 
she felt vaguely that life had taken a big stride here 
since she last saw it. Nothing was changed, though, 
as far as she could see. A few cattle fed in the meadow 
next the river, a fattening hog lifted himself from his 
bed of straw and grunted at them as they passed. A 
few chickens were hunting fishworms in the thawed 
places of the garden, and a yellow cat ran creepingly 
along the top rail of the nearest corral, crouched there 
with digging claws and pounced down into a flock of 
snowbirds. A drift of dead apple leaves stirred un- 
easily beside the footpath through the berry bushes. 
Billy Louise started nervously and glanced over her 
shoulder at Seabeck. For some reason she wanted the 
comfort of his presence. She waited until he came 
up to her tall, straight like a soldier, and silent as 
the Cove itself. 

" I 'm scared," said Billy Louise. She did not 



328 RANCH AT HE WOLVERINE 



smile either when she said it. "I hate empty-feeling 
places. I'm afraid of emptiness." 

" Yet you are always riding alone in the hills." Sea- 
beck looked down at her with a puzzled expression in 
his eyes. 

" The hills are n't empty," she told him impatiently. 
" They 're just big and quiet. This is " She flung 
out a hand and did not try to find a word for what 
she felt. 

" Shall I go first ? I thought you would rather 

" I would." Billy Louise pulled herself together, 
angry at her sudden impulse to run, as she had run 
from Ward's quiet cabin. She remembered that un- 
reasoning panic was it really only yesterday ? and 
went steadily up the path and across the little ditch 
which Marthy had dug. Why must sordid trouble 
and dull misery hang over a beauty-spot like this ? $he 
thought resentfully. 

She stopped for a minute on the doorstep, hesitat- 
ing before she opened the door. Behind her, Seabeck 
drew close as if he would shield her from something; 
perhaps he, too, felt the deadly quiet and emptiness of* 
the place. 

Billy Louise opened the door and stepped into the 
kitchen. She stopped and stood still, so that her slim 
figure would have hidden the interior from the eyes 
of Seabeck had he not been so tall. As it was, she barred 
his way so that he must stand on the step outside. 

By the kitchen table, with her elbows on the soiled 
oilcloth, sat Marthy. Her uncombed hair hung in 
wisps about her head ; her hard old face was lined and 
gray, her hard eyes dull with brooding. Billy Louise, 



MARTHY 329 

staring at her from the doorway, knew that Marthy had 
been sitting like that for a long, long time. 

She went over to her diffidently. Hesitatingly she 
laid her gauntleted hand on Marthy 's stooped shoul- 
der. She did not say anything. Marthy did not move 
under her touch, except to turn her dull glance upon 
Seabeck, standing there on the doorstep. 

" C'm in," she said stolidly. " What 'd yuh come 
ferf" 

" Miss MacDonald will perhaps explain " 

" She ain't got nothin' to explain," said hard old 
Marthy with grim finality. " I '11 do what explaining 
to be done. C'm in. Don't stand there like a stump. 
And shut the door. It 's cold as a barn here, any- 
way." 

" Oh, Marthy ! " cried Billy Louise, with the sound 
of tears in her voice. 

" Don't oh Marthy me," said the harsh voice flatly. 
" I don't want no Marthyin' nor no sympathy. Well, 
old man, you 're here to colleck, I s'pose. Take what 's 
in sight ; 'tain't none of it yourn, far 's I know, but 
anything you claim you kin have, fer all me. I 've lived 
honest all my days an' worked fer what I got. I 've 
harbored thieves in my old age and trusted them that 
wa' n't fit to/ be trusted. I Ve allus paid my debts, Sea- 
beck. I 'm willin' to pay now fer bein' a fool." 

" W-where 's Charlie ? " Billy Louise leaned and 
whispered the question. 

" I d' no, and I don't care. He 's pulled out him 
an' that breed. I '11 have t' pay yuh for seven growed 
cattle I never seen till yist'day, Seabeck. You can set 
yer own price on 'em. I ain't sure, but I 've got an 



330 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

idee they was shot las' night an' dumped in the river. 
You c'n set yer price. I 've got rheumatiz so bad I 
could n't go V put a stop to nothin' but 

" Oh, Marthy ! " Billy Louise was shivering and 
crying now. " Marthy ! Don't be so so hard. It 
was all Charlie " 

" Yes," said Marthy harshly, " it was all Charlie. 
He was a thief, an' I was sech a simple-minded old fool 
I never knowed what he was. I let him go ahead, an' 
I set in the house with a white apurn tied on me an' 
thought I was havin' an easy time. I set here and let 
him rob my neighbors that I ain't never harmed er 
cheated out of a cent, and soon 's he thought he was 
found out, he left ole Marthy to look after herself. 
Never so much as fed the hogs or done the milkin' 
first ! Looky here, Seabeck ! You '11 git paid back, 
an' I '11 take your figgers fer what I owe, but if you 
git after Charlie, I '11 kill yuh. You let 'im go. 
I 'm the one he hurt most and I ain't goin' " She 
laid her frowsy old head on her arms, like one who is 
utterly crushed and dumb. 

" Oh, Marthy ! " Billy Louise knelt and threw her 
arms around Marthy's shoulders. 

" You 've got to come and lie down, Marthy," said 
Billy Louise, after a long, unbroken silence. 

" Mr. Seabeck, if you '11 start a fire. I '11 make some 
tea for her. Come, Marthy just to please me. Do 
it for Billy Louise, Marthy." 

The old woman rose stiffly, and with a feebleness that 
seemed utterly foreign to her usual energy, permitted 
Billy Louise to lead her from the kitchen. In the sit- 
ting-room that Charlie had built and furnished for her, 



MARTHY 331 

Marthy lay and stared around her with that same dull 
apathy she had shown from the first. Only once did 
she manifest any real emotion, and that was when Billy 
Louise came in with some tea and toast. 

" You take all them books outa them shelves an' burn 
'em up," she commanded. " An' you take them two 
pictures off'n that shelf, of him an' her, an' bring 
'em t' me." 

Billy Louise set the toast and tea down on a chair and 
brought the pictures. She did not say a word, but she 
looked a little scared and her eyes were very big, just 
as they had been when Ward mistook her for Buck Olney 
and so let her see into another one of the dark places 
of life. It seemed to Billy Louise that she was being 
compelled to look into a good many dark places, lately. 

Marthy took the two photographs and looked at the 
first with hatred. " The Jezebel ! She won't git to run 
it over ole Marthy," she muttered with sullen triumph 
and twisted the cardboard spitefully in her gnarled old 
fingers. " She can't come here an' take all I 've got 
an' never give me a thankye for it. I 'm shet uh her, 
anyway." She twisted again and yet again, till the pic- 
ture was a handful of ragged scraps of cardboard. Then 
she raised herself to an elbow and flung the frag- 
ments far from her and lay down again with glum 
satisfaction. 

Her fingers touched the other picture, which had slid 
to the couch. Mechanically she picked it up and held 
it so that the light from the window struck it full. 
This was Charlie's face Charlie with the falsely 
frank smile in his eyes, and with his lips curved as 
they did when he was just going to say, " IsTow, Aunt 



332 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Martha ! " in tender protest against her too eager 
industry. 

Marthy's chin began to quiver while she looked. Her 
lips sagged with the pull of her aching heart. For the 
third time in her life Billy Louise saw big, slow tears 
gather in Marthy's hard blue eyes and slide down the 
leathery seams in her cheeks. Billy Louise looked, 
found her vision blurring with her own tears, and 
turned and tiptoed from the room. 

Seabeck was gone somewhere on his horse. Billy 
Louise guessed shrewdly that he was down in the 
meadows, looking over the cattle and trying to estimate 
the extent of the thievery. She put Blue in the stable 
and fed him, with that half -mechanical habit of attend- 
ing to the needs of one's mount which becomes second 
nature to the range-bred. She would not go on to the 
[Wolverine; that needed no decision; she accepted it 
at once as a fact. Marthy needed her now more than 
anyone. More even than Ward, though Billy Louise 
hated to think of him up there alone and practically 
helpless. But Marthy must have her to-night. Marthy 
was facing her bitterest sorrow since Minervy died, and 
Marthy was old. Ward, Billy Louise reminded herself 
sternly, was not old, and he was facing happiness 
so far as he or anyone knew. She wanted very much 
to be with Ward, but she could not delude her con- 
science into believing that he needed her more than did 
Marthy. 

Seabeck returned after awhile, and Billy Louise, who 
was watching from the doorway, met him at the little 
gate as he was coming up to the house. 

" Well, how bad is it, Mr. Seabeck ? " she asked 



MARTHY 333 

sharply, just because she felt the imperative need 
of facts she who had struggled so long in the quick- 
sands of suspicion and doubts and fears and suspense. 

" Hmm-mm how bad is it in the house ? " he 
countered. " The real crime has been committed there, 
it seems to me. A few head of cattle, more or less, 
don't count for much against the broken heart of an 
Id woman." 

" Oh ! " Billy Louise, her hands clenched upon the 
gate, stared up wide-eyed into his face. And this was 
the real Seabeck, whom she had known impersonally all 
her life! This was the real man of him, whom she 
had never known; a flawless diamond of a soul behind 
those bright blue eyes and that pointed, graying beard ; 
poet, philosopher, gentleman to the bone. " Oh! You 
saw that, too ! And they 're your cattle that were 
stolen ! You saw it oh, you 're you 're " 

" Hmm-mm a human being, I hope, Miss MacDon- 
ald, as well as a mere cattleman. How is the old lady ? " 

" Crying," said Billy Louise, with brief directness. 
" Crying over the picture of that swine. Think of 
his running off and leaving her here all alone and 
not even doing the chores first ! " (Here, you must 
know, was broken an unwritten law of the ranch.) 
" And Marthy 's got rheumatism, too, so she can hardly 
walk " 

" I '11 attend to the chores, Miss MacDonald." Sea- 
beck's lips quirked under the fingers that pulled at his 
whiskers. " You say over his picture ? " 

" Yes, over his picture ! " Billy Louise spoke with a 
suppressed fury. " With that honest look in his eyes 
oh, I could kill him!" 



334 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" Hmm-mm it does seem a pity that one can't. 
But if she can cry " 

" I see. You believe too that tears are a necessary 
kind of weakness for a woman, like smoking tobacco 
is for a man or swearing. Well, I can just tell you, 
Mr. Seabeck, that some tears pull the very soul 
out of a person ; they 're the red-hot pinchers of the 
torture-chamber of life, Mr. Seabeck. Every single, 
slow tear that Marthy sheds right now is taking that 
much away from her life. Why, she she idolized 
that that devil. She had n't much that was lovable in 
poor old Jarse ; he was just her husband ; he was n't even 
a real man. And she never had any children to love, 
except a little girl that died. And she 's worked here 
and scrimped and saved till she got just fairly com- 
fortable, and then Charlie Fox came and patted her on 
the back and called her a game little lady, and poor 
old Marthy just poured out all the love and all the 
trust she had in her, on him ! And she 's old, and she 
had starved all her life for a little love a little affec- 
tion and a few kind words. I don't suppose Jase kissed 
her once in twenty years ; I could n't imagine him get- 
ting up steam enough to kiss anybody! And Charlie 
petted her and did little things for her that nobody- 
had ever done in her life. It meant a whole lot to 
Marthy to have a man take the water bucket away from 
her and give her a little hug and tell her she must n't 
think of carrying water ; oh, you 're a man, and I don't 
suppose you can realize ; I did n't myself, till lately - 
Billy Louise blushed and then twisted her lips, wonder- 
ing if love had taught her all this. 

" And so Marthy just leaned more and more on him 



MARTHY 335 

and let him take care of her and pet her; land she 
never once dreamed he was doing anything crooked. I 
thought she did, I know, Mr. Seabeck. I thought she 
was in it, too ; but I see now that Marthy has been liv- 
ing the woman in her, these last two years ; she 'd never 
had a chance before. And now to have him to know he 's 
just a common thief and to have him go off and leave 
her Mr. Seabeck, I 'd be willing to bet all I 've got 
that Marthy would have forgiven his stealing cattle, if 
he had just stayed. She 'd have done anything on earth 
for him ; and the bigger the sacrifice she made for him, 
the more she would have loved him; women are like 
that. But to have him go off and leave her and 
not bother his head about what happened to her, just 
so he got out of it Mr. Seabeck, that 's going to kill 
Marthy. It 's going to kill her by inches." 

"I see," he assented, looking thoughtfully at the 
flushed face and big, shining eyes of Billy Louise. (I 
wonder if Seabeck was not thinking how he had known 
Billy Louise impersonally all her life and yet had never 
met the real Billy Louise until to-day!) 

" And yet," she added bitterly, " she 's going to pro- 
tect him if it takes every cent she 's managed to rake 
together these last thirty years. You heard what she 
told you. She said she 'd kill you if you hurt Charlie. 
She 'd try it, too." 

" Hmm-mm, yes ! My life has been threatened sev- 
eral times to-day." Seabeck looked at her with eyes 
a-twinkle, and Billy Louise blushed to the crown of her 
Stetson hat. " Do you think, Miss MacDonald, she 
would feel like talking business for a few minutes ? " 

" Oh, yes ; if she 's like me, she '11 want to get the 



336 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

agony over with." Billy Louise turned with a twitch 
of the shoulders. She felt chilled, somehow. She had 
not quite expected that Seabeck would want to talk 
about his stolen stock at all. She had rather taken 
it for granted that he would let that subject lie quiet 
for awhile. Oh, well, he was a cattleman, after all. 

Marthy did not attempt to rise when Seabeck followed 
Billy Louise into the sitting-room. She caught up her 
apron and wiped her eyes and her nose, however, and 
she also slid Charlie's picture under the cheap cushion. 
After that she faced Seabeck with harsh composure 
and waited for the settlement. 

" Hm-mm ! I have been looking over the cattle," he 
began, sitting on the edge of a chair and turning his 
black hat absently round and round by the brim. " You 
inm-mm you tell me there were seven head of 
grown stock " 

" That they shot and throwed in the river, with the 
brands cut out," interpolated Marthy stolidly. " I 
heard 'em say that 's how they would git rid of 'em, 
an' I heard 'em shootin' down there." 

" Hmm-mm, yes ! Do you know just what " 

" Five dry cows 'n' two steers long two-year-oles, 
I j edged 'em to be." Marthy was certainly prompt 
enough and explicit enough. And her lips were grim, 
and her faded blue eyes hard and steady upon the face 
of Seabeck. 

" Hmm-mm yes ! I find also," he went on in 
his somewhat precise voice that had earned him the 
nickname of " Deacon " among his punchers, " that 
there are more young stock vented and rebranded than 
I er sold your nephew. Fourteen head, to be ex- 



MARTHY 33? 

act. With the cattle you tell me which were mm-m 
disposed of last night, that would make twenty-one 
head of stock for which mm-mm I take it you are 
willing to pay." 

" I ain't got the money now," Marthy stated, too 
apathetic to be either defiant or placating. " You c'n 
fix up the papers t' suit yerself. I '11 sign anything 
yuh want." 

" Hmm-mm yes ! A note covering the amount, 
with legal rate of interest, will be quite satisfactory, 
Mrs. Meilke. I shall make a lump sum at the going 
price for mixed stock. If you have a blank note, I " 

" You kin look in that desk over there," permitted 
Marthy. " If yuh don't find any there, there ain't none 
nowhere." 

Seabeck did not find any blank notes. He found an 
eloquent confusion of jumbled letters and accounts and 
papers, and guessed that the owner had done some hasty 
sorting and straightening of his affairs. He sighed, 
and his blue eyes hardened for a minute. Then Billy 
Louise moved from the door and went over to kneel 
comfortingly beside Marthy, and Seabeck looked at 
the two and sighed again, though his eyes were no 
longer stern. He pulled a sheet of paper toward him 
and wrote steadily in a prim, upright chirography that 
had never a flourish anywhere, but carefully crossed 
t's and carefully dotted i's and punctuation marks of 
beautiful exactness. 

" You will please sign here, Mrs. Meilke," he said 
calmly, coming over to them with the sheet of paper 
laid smoothly upon a last-year's best-seller and with 
Charlie's fountain pen in his other hand. " And if 



338 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

Miss MacDonald will also sign, as an endorser, I think 
I can safely do away with any mortgage or other legal 
security." 

Billy Louise stood up and gave him one look which 
Seabeck did not appreciate, because he did not see it. 

" I 'd ruther give a mortgage," Marthy said uneasily, 
sitting up suddenly and looking from one to the other. 
" I don't want Billy Louise to git tangled up in my 
troubles. She 's got plenty of her own. Her maw 's just 
died, Mr. Seabeck. And I '11 bet there was a hospital 
'n' doctor's bill bigger 'n this cattle note, to be paid. I 
don't want to pile on " 

" Now, Marthy, you be still. I 'm perfectly willing 
to sign this note with you. If it will satisfy Mr. Sea- 
beck, I 'm sure it 's the very least we can do or 
expect." Billy Louise, bless her heart, was trying very 
hard to be grateful to Seabeck in spite of the slump 
he had suffered in her estimation. 

" Well, I '11 want your written word that yuh won't 
prosycute Charlie nor help nobody else prosycute him," 
stipulated Marthy, with sudden shrewdness. " If me 'n 
Billy Louise signs this note, we '11 pay it ; and we want 
some pertection from you, fer Charlie." 

" Hmm-mm I see ! " He turned and went back 
to the littered desk and wrote carefully again upon an- 
other sheet of paper. " I think this will be quite satis- 
factory," he said, and handed the paper to Marthy. 

" Git my specs, Billy Louise off 'n the shelf over 
there," she said, and read the paper laboriously, her 
lips forming the letters of every word which contained 
more than one syllable. Marthy, remember, was a 
plainswoman born and bred. 



MARTHY 339 

" I guess that '11 do," she pronounced at last, push- 
ing the spectacles up on her lined forehead. " You read 
it, Billy Louise, 'n' see what yuh think." 

" I think it 's all right, Marthy," said Billy Louise, 
after she had read the document twice. " It 's a bill of 
sale; and it also wipes the slate clean of any pos- 
sible I think Mr. Seabeck is very c-clever." 

Whereupon Marthy signed the note, with a splut-^ 
tering of the abused pen in her stiffened old fingers and 
a great twisting of her grim mouth as she formed the 
capitals. Then Billy Louise wrote her name with a 
fine, schoolgirl ease and a little curl on the end of the 
last d. Seabeck took the paper from the tips of Billy 
Louise's supercilious fingers, returned with it to the 
desk for a blotter, hunted an envelope, folded the note 
carefully, and laid it away inside. 

" I believe that is all, Mrs. Meilke. I hope you will 
suffer no further uneasiness on account of your 
nephew." 

" I 'm liable t' suffer some gittin' that five hundred 

dollars paid up," Marthy returned with some acerbity. 

1 " I 'm much obleeged to yuh, Mr. Seabeck, fer bein' 

so easy on us. If yuh had n't drug Billy Louise into 

it, I 'd say yer too good to be human." 

" Hmm-mm not at all," Seabeck stammered depre- 
catingly and left the room with what haste his natural 
dignity would permit. 

That ended the Seabeck part of the whole sordid af- 
fair, except that he remained for another hour, doing 
chores and making everything snug for the night. Also 
he filled the kitchen woodbox as high as he could pile 
the sticks and brought water to last overnight since 



Charlie 's plan to pipe water into the cabin had re- 
mained a beautiful plan and nothing more. Billy 
Louise thanked Seabeck, when he was ready to go. 

" I knew you were square, and you 're really big- 
souled, too. I '11 remember it always, Mr. Seabeck." 

" Will you ? " Seabeck looked down at her, with his 
hand upon the latch. " Even if you are put in a posi- 
tion where you must pay that note you will still - 
Hm-mm! I see. Before I go, Miss MacDonald, I 
should like your permission to send a man down here 
to look after things." 

" No, you must n't." Billy Louise spoke with prompt 
decision. " Marthy might think you were you see, 
it would n't do. I '11 see about getting a man. If you 
will take this note up and leave it in the mail-box for 
me, John Pringle will come up to-morrow. We '11 man- 
age all right." 

" You 're quite right. But, Miss MacDonald, there 
is something else. I er should like to give you a 
little wedding gift, since you honored me with the 
news of your approaching mm-m marriage. As an 
old neighbor, and one of your most sincere admirers, 
who would feel greatly honored by your friendship, I 
should like to have you accept this " He held 
something out to Billy Louise and pulled open the door 
for instant escape. " Good night, Miss MacDonald. I 
think it will storm." Then he was gone, hurrying down 
the narrow path with long strides, his tall figure bent 
to the wind, his coat flapping around his lean legs. 

Billy Louise closed the door and her half-open mouth 
and let down her lifted eyelids. Standing with her 
back against the wall, she turned that something 



MARTHY 341 

an enyelepe over twice, then tore off the end and 
pulled out the contents. It was the note she and Marthy 
had signed no longer than an hour ago, and written 
large across the face of it were the words : " Paid, Sam- 
uel Seabeck." 

" The old darling ! " said Billy Louise under 
her breath and went straight in to show it to Marthy. 



CHAPTEE XXVIII 

% 

ALL SIGHT AND COMFY 

SEABECK was a fine weather prophet, for that 
time at least. It did storm that night and the 
next day and the next ; a howling, tearing blizzard that 
carried the snow so far and so fast that it almost wore 
it out; so that when the spasm was over, the land lay 
bleaker and raggeder than ever, with hard-packed drifts 
in all the hollows and bare ground between. Of course 
it was out of the question for Billy Louise to leave 
the Cove while the storm lasted, so she took care of 
Marthy and the pigs and chickens and cows, and be- 
tween whiles she tormented herself with direful pictures 
of Ward up there alone on Mill Creek. Sometimes she 
saw him raving in fever and wanting a drink which he 
could not get, so that thirst tortured him; then calling 
for her, when she could not come. Sometimes she saw 
him trying to hobble somewhere on those crutches, and 
falling exhausted breaking more bones, perhaps; or 
catching more cold, or something. She was a most 
distressed Billy Louise, believe me, and she wished a 
hundred times a day that she had stayed with Ward ; 
she wished that, in spite of Marthy's need of her. She 
was terribly sorry for Marthy; but Marthy had not 
broken any leg, and besides, she was not in love with 
Marthy. 

On the second day John Pringle battled through the 



ALL RIGHT AND COMFY 343 

V 

storm to see what Billy Louise would have him do. 
And Billy Louise gave him instructions about finding 
a man and sending him up to the Cove at once, and 
looking after tke Wolverine ranch until she eame 1 and 
having Phoebe send up some clothes for her. She felt 
better when she had set the wheels in motion again, 
and as she stood in the door and watched John's broad, 
stolid back out of sight on his homeward journey, she. 
made up her mind that she would start at daylight for 
Mill Creek, and she did n't care whether it stormed 
or not. She simply would not leave Ward there alone 
any longer. She almost wished that she had told Sea- 
beck about Ward; he would have sent a man over to 
look after him. But she was selfish, and she wanted 
Ward to herself; so she had not so much as mentioned 
his name to Seabeck. 

She milked tke two cows by lantern light, next morn- 
ing; and the pigs did not seem to want to leave their 
nests when she poured their breakfast into the trough 
by the wavering light she carried. She made coffee 
for Marthy and took it to her in bed, and told her that 
she would leave plenty of wood and kindling, and that 
Marthy must sleep as long as she could and not worry 
about a single, living thing. She said she must get 
an early start, because it might be " bad going " and 
she meant to bring Ward back with her if he were able 
to travel at all. 

" I can't be in two places at once, Marthy, so if you 
don't mind, I '11 bring him down here where I can look 
after the two of you at the same time. You '11 let me, 
won't you ! Or else," she added hopefully, " I '11 take 
you both down home. Would you rather " 



344 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" I 'd ruther stay here where I b'long," said Marthy 
dully. " But I don't want you should go t' any trouble 
about me, Billy Louise. I 've rustled fer m'self all 
my life, and I guess I kin yit. If it wa'n't fer my rheu- 
matiz, I 'd ask no odds of anybody. I ain't goin' t' 
leave, anyway. Charlie might come back, er ' 

" Well, you need n't leave." Billy Louise told her- 
self that she was not disappointed, because she had not 
hoped to persuade Marthy to leave the Cove. " You 
don't mind if I bring Ward down here, do you, 
Marthy ?" 

" No, I don't mind nothin' you kin do," said Marthy 
in the same dull tone, pouring her saucer full of cof- 
fee and spilling some on her pillow, because her hands 
were not as steady as they used to be. " He kin sleep 
in Charlie's room, if yuh want he should." She took 
two big swallows that emptied the saucer, handed the 
dish to Billy Louise, and lay down again. " I don't 
seem to care about nothin'," she remarked tonelessly. 
" I 'd jest as soon die as live. I wisht you 'd send word 
to Seabeck I want t' see him, Billy Louise. Oh, it 
ain't about Charlie," she aded harshly. " He V shet 
uh me, and I 'm shet uh him. I got some other busi- 
ness with Seabeck. Tell him to bring a couple uh men 
along with him." 

" Is there any hurry, Marthy ? " Billy Louise stood 
holding the cup and saucer in her two hands, and stared 
down anxiously at the lined old face on the pillow. A 
faint, red glow was in the sky, and the lamp-light 
dimmed with the coming of day. " You don't feel - 
badly, do you, Marthy ? " 

" Me ? No. Why should I feel bad ? But I want 



ALL RIGHT AND COMFY 345 

t' see Seabeck and a couple of his men, jest as quick 
as you kin git word to 'em." 

" Which ones ? " Billy Louise was plainly puzzled. 
Was Marthy going to make him take those cattle back ? 
It was like her. Billy Louise did not blame her for 
feeling that way, either. If she had had the money, 
she would have paid him herself for the cattle. 

" It don't matter which ones. You send 'im word, 
Billy Louise, like the good girl yuh always have been. 
You 've always kind a took the place of my Minervy to 
me, Billy Louise ; and I won't bother yuh much longer." 

" Oh, of course I will ! The stage will go up this 
forenoon. I '11 send a note to Seabeck. It won't be 
any bother at all. What shall I say ? Just that you 
want to see him ? " 

" I kin write it m' self, I guess, if you '11 bring me a 
pencil and paper. I can't seem t' git used to a pen. I 
kin write all I want t' say." 

Billy Louise let it go at that. She brought the paper 
and pencil and went after Blue, while Marthy, sitting 
up in bed, wrote her note. Billy Louise was eager to 
start; and I don't think anyone should blame her if 
she hurried Marthy a little, and if her parting words 
were few, and her manner slightly abstracted. She 
knew just how Marthy was feeling or thought she 
did ; and she was simply wild with anxiety over 
Ward. 

Blue discovered before she was out of the gorge that 
his lady was wild over something. Never had she come 
so near to being a merciless rider as on that nippy morn- 
ing. There were drifts: Blue went through them in 
great lunges. There were steep hills : but there was no 



346 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

stopping at the top to breathe awhile and admire the 
view. Billy Louise rode with an eye upon the climbing 
sun, and with her mind busy adding up miles and 
minutes. 

She rode up the creek trail at a long lope, and she 
pulled up at the stable and slid off Blue, who was 
wet to his ears and moving every rib when he breathed. 
(Blue was a good horse, with plenty of speed and stam- 
ina, but Billy Louise had given him all he wanted, 
that morning.) She went straight to a corner of the 
hay corral and stopped with her hands clutching the top 
wire. 

" Ward Warren, for heaven's sake, what are you do- 
ing ? " You could n't have told from her tone that she 
had been crying, a mile back, from sheer anxiety, or 
that she " loved him to pieces." She sounded as if 
she did not love him at all and was merely disgusted 
with his actions. 

" I 'm trying to sink my loop on this damned buzzard- 
head of a horse," Ward retorted glumly. " I 've been 
trying for about an hour," he added, grinning a little 
at his own plight. 

" Well, it 's a lucky thing for you he won't let you," 
Billy Louise informed him sternly, stooping to crawl 
under the bottom wire. " You 've got about as much 
sense as " She did not say what. " Give me that 
rope, and you take yourself and your crutches out of 
the corral, Mr. Smarty. I just had a hunch you could n't 
be trusted to behave yourself." 

" Brave Buckaroo got lonesome," Ward said, look- 
ing at her with eyes alight, as he hobbled slowly to- 
ward her. " You '11 have to open the gate for me, 



ALL RIGHT AND COMFY 347 

William. Rattler '11 make a break for the open if he 
sees a crack as wide as your little finger." 

By then he was near enough to reach out an arm and 
pull her close to him. " Oh, William girl, I 'm sure 
glad to see you once more. I got scared. I thought 
maybe I just dreamed you were here; so I tackled " 

" You tackled more than you could handle," Billy 
Louise finished with her lips close to his. " You 
have n't got any sense at all. You might have known 
I 'd come the very first minute I could." 

" I know I know." 

" And you ought to know you must n't try to ride 
Rattler, Ward. What if he 'd pitch with you ? " 

" In that case, I 'd pile up, I reckon. Say, William, 
a broken leg does take a hell of a time to get well. But 
all the same, I '11 top old Rattler, all right. I 'd top 
anything rather than spend another night in that jail." 

" You '11 ride Blue," Billy Louise told him calmly. 
" I 'm going to ride Rattler myself." 

" Yes, you are not ! " 

" Do you mean to say I can't ? Do you think " 

" Oh, I guess you can, all right, but " 

" Well, if I can, I 'm going to. If you think I can't 
handle a measly old skate like that " 

" He 's been running out for nearly two months, Wil- 
hemina " 

" And look at his ribs! If you '11 just kindly go in 
the house while I saddle " 

" I '11 kindly stay right here, lady-girl. You don't 
know Rattler " 

" And you don't know Billy Louise MacDonald." 
She wrinkled her nose at him and turned back to un- 



saddle Blue. " I really did n't intend to go back right 
now," she said, " but seeing you 've got your heart set 
on it, I suppose we might as well." Then she added: 
" We 're only going as far as the Cove, anyway ; and 
I really ought to hurry back to look after Marthy. 
Charlie Fox and Peter pulled out and left her there 
all solitary alone. I Ve been staying with her since 
I left here. I told her we 'd be down there, and stay 
till further notice." 

Billy Louise did not give Ward much opportunity 
for argument. He was too awkward with his crutches 
to keep up with her, and she managed to be on the 
move most of the time. 

I may as well admit that she was horribly afraid 
of Rattler, and horribly afraid that he and Ward would 
find it out. She did not hurry much. She took plenty 
of time to put Ward's saddle on Blue, and when she 
finally took her rope and went in after Rattler, who 
was regarding her from the corner of the stack where 
he might run either way, she wished that Ward was 
elsewhere and she did not much care where. 

But Ward was anxious, and he stayed where he was 
by the corner of the stable and swore in violent under- 
tones because he was condemned to look on while his 
Wilhemina took long chances on getting hurt. Not a 
move of hers escaped his fear-sharpened eyes, while 
she went carelessly close to Rattler, and then, with a 
quick flip, landed the loop neatly over his head. Ward 
would have felt less pleased if he had known how her 
heart was thumping. He saw only the whimsical twist 
of her lips and thought that she was enjoying a dis- 
tinctly feminine sense of triumph at her success. 



ALL RIGHT AND COMFY 349 

Billy Louise led Rattler boldly up to where lay her 
saddle and Ward's bridle. She hoped she did not 
look scared, but she was wondering all the time what 
Rattler would do when she " piled on " ; pile her off, 
probably, her pessimism told her, for Billy Louise was 
no lady broncho-fighter, for all she rode so well on 
horses that she knew. There is a difference. 

" Sure you want to tackle him, lady-girl ? " Ward 
asked her, after he had himself attended to the bridling 
since Rattler was touchy about the head. " Of 
course, he is n't bad, when you know him ; but he 's 
liable to be pretty snuffy after running out so long. And 
he never had a woman on him. You better let me ride 
him." 

" Don't be silly. You could n't even mount him, with 
that game leg. And besides, don't you see I 've been 
wanting an excuse to ride Rattler ever since I knew 
you? You must have a very poor opinion of my 
riding." 

" Oh, if you put it that way " Ward yielded, 
just as she knew he would. " I have n't a doubt but 
what you can handle him if you take a notion. Only 
if you got hurt " 

" But I won't." Billy Louise braced her courage 
with a smile and picked up the saddle blanket. But 
Ward took it from her and hobbled close enough to ad- 
just it. 

" He knows me," he explained meaningly. " Bet- 
ter let me saddle up. He don't know but what I can 
cave a rib or two in, if he don't behave. Just hand 
me the saddle, William, please." 

" You 're only trying to scare me out," Billy Louise 



350 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

accused him, with a vast relief well hidden. " I 'm not 
a bit afraid of him." 

" All right ; that '11 help some." He steadied him- 
self by the horse 's twitching shoulder while he reached 
carefully for the cinch. " I guess I 'm more scared 
than you are." 

" I know you are. I 've taken too many tumbles to 
let the prospect of another one worry me, anyway. 
Why, Blue ditched me himself, three different times 
when I first began to ride him. And even yet the old 
devil would like to, once in a while." Billy Louise 
was actually talking herself rapidly into a feeling of 
confidence. 

She needed it. When she had helped Ward upon 
Blue and that was not easy, either, considering that 
he only had one leg fit to stand on and had gone 
to the cabin for her bag of nuggets and Ward's roll of 
money which he had forgotten, and had exhausted every 
other excuse for delay, she picked up Rattler's reins 
and wound her fingers in his mane, and took hold of 
the stirrup as nonchalantly as if she were mounting 
Blue. 

She went up at the instant when Rattler jumped 
sidewise from her. She got partly into the saddle, 
clung there for a few harrowing seconds, and then went 
'over his head and plump into a snowdrift beside the 
stable. 

" Good God ! " groaned Ward and went white and 
weak as he watched. 

" Good gracious ! " grumbled Billy Louise, righting 
herself and digging snow out of her collar and sleeves. 
" Stop your laughing, Ward Warren ! " (Ward was 



ALL RIGHT AND COMFY 351 

not laughing, and she knew it.) " I '11 ride that ornery 
cayuse, just to show him I can. You Rattler, I '11 fix 
you for that ! " She turned to Ward and twisted her 
lips at him. " I see now why you named him that," 
she said. " Because he rattles your teeth loose." 

" You keep off him ! " Ward shouted sternly. 

" You keep still ! " Billy Louise shouted back at him. 
" We 're going to find out right now who 's boss." 

Whether she referred to Rattler or to his master she 
did not stipulate ; perhaps she meant both of them. At 
any rate, she caught the horse again and mounted, a 
great deal more cautiously than she had at first, in 
spite of Ward's threats and entreaties. She got fairly 
into the saddle and stayed there with the help of the 
horn and the luck that had thus far carried her through 
almost anything she undertook. She was not a bit 
ashamed of " pulling leather." 

" Now we 're all right and comfy," she announced 
breathlessly, when the first fight was over and Rattler, 
like his master, had yielded to the inevitable. " And 
we know who 's boss, and we 're all of us squindiciously 
happy, because we 're headed for home. Are n't we, 
buckaroo ? " 

" I suppose so," Ward mumbled doubtingly, for a 
moment eyeing her sidelong. He was not quite over 
his scare yet. 

" And say, buckaroo ! " Billy Louise reined close, 
so that she could reach out and pinch his arm a little 
bit. " Soon as your leg is all well, and you 're every 
speck over the hookin'-cough, why you can be the 
boss ! " 

"Can I?" 



352 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

" Honest, you can. I 've " Billy Louise had the 
grace to blush a little "I 've always thought I 'd 
love to have somebody bully me and boss me and 'buse 
me. And I " Her lips twitched a little. " I think 
you can qualify. What was that you said just as I was 
getting on the second time ? I was too busy to listen, 
but " 

" But what ? I don't remember that I said anything." 
Ward got hold of her free hand and held it tight. 

" Oh, yes, you did ! It was sweary, too." 

"W&s it?" 

" Yes, it was. You sweared at Flower of the 
Eanch-oh." 

Billy Louise stopped at that, since Ward refused to 
be baited. She sensed that there were bigger things 
than a " sweary " sentence in the forefront of her bucka- 
roo's mind. She waited. 

They came to the gate, and Billy Louise freed her 
hand from his clasp and dismounted, since it was a 
wire gate and could not be opened on horseback. She 
closed it after him, looked to her cinch, tightened it 
a little, patted Eattler forgivingly on the neck, caught 
the horn with one hand and the stirrup with the other, 
and went up quite like a man, while Ward watched 
her intently. 

" l In sooth, I know not why you are so sa-ad,' " mur- 
mured Billy Louise, when she swung alongside in the 
trail. 

Ward caught her hand again and did not let go ; so 
they rode hand in hand down the narrow valley. 

" I was wondering " he hesitated, drawing in a 
corner of his lip, biting it, and letting it go. " Wil- 



ALL RIGHT AND COMFY 353 

hemina, if old Lady Fortune takes a notion to give me 
another kick or two, just when life looks so good to 
me " 

" Why, we '11 kick back just as hard as she does," 
threatened Billy Louise courageously. " Don't let hap- 
piness get on your nerves, Ward." 

" If I was n't crippled, it would n't. But whea a 
man 's down and out, he thinks a lot. The last three 
days, I 've lived a whole lifetime, lady-girl. Everything 
seems to be coming my way, all at once. And I 'm 
afraid; what if I can't make good? If I can't make 
you happy " he squeezed her fingers so that Billy 
Louise had to grit her teeth to keep from interrupting 
him " or if anything should happen to you Lord ! 
I I never knew what it was to be crazy scared till I 
saw you fall off Kattler. I " 

" You 've got nerves, buckaroo. You Ve been shut 
up there alone so long you see things all distorted. 
We 're going to be happy, because we '11 be together, 
and we 've so much to do and so much to think of. You 
must realize, Ward, that we 've got three places to take 
care of, and you and me and poor old Marthy. She 
has n't anybody, Ward, but us. And she 's changed so 
got so old just in the last few days. I never knew 
a person could change so much in such a little while. 
She 's just let go all holds and kind of sagged down, 
mentally and physically. W 7 e '11 have to take care of 
her, Ward, as long as she lives. That 's why I 'm tak- 
ing you there so we can look after her. She won't 
leave the Cove. I I was hoping," she added shyly, 
" that we could sit in front of our own fireplace, Ward, 
and have nice cozy evenings; but: well, there always 



354 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

seems to be something for me to do for somebody, 
Ward." 

" Oh, you Wilhemina ! " Ward slipped his arm 
around her, to the disgust of Rattler and Blue, and 
made shift to kiss her twice. " Long as you live, you '11 
aways be doing something for somebody ; that 's the 
way you 're made. And nobody 's been doing things 
for you ; but if the Lord lets me live, that 's going to 
be my job from now on." 

He said a great deal more, of course. They had 
nearly fifteen miles to go, and they rode at a walk; 
and a man and a maid can say a good deal at such 
a time. But I don't think they would like to have 
it all repeated. Their thoughts ranged far: back over 
the past and far into the future, and clung close to 
the miracle of love that had brought them together. 
There is one thing which Billy Louise, even in her most 
self-revealing mood, did not tell Ward, and that is her 
doubts of him. Never once did he dream that she had 
suspected him and wrung her heart because of her sus- 
picions and in that I think she was wise and kind. 

They found Seabeck and Floyd Carson and another 
cowboy at the Cove, just preparing to leave. Marthy, 
it transpired, had wanted to make her will, so that 
Billy Louise would have the Cove when Marthy was 
done with it. Billy Louise cried a little and argued 
a good deal, but Marthy had not lost all her stubborn- 
ness, and the will stood unchanged. 

When Ward understood all of the circumstances, he 
hobbled into the kitchen and signaled Seabeck to fol- 
low him ; and there he counted out five hundred dol- 



ALL RIGHT AND COMFY 355 

lars from his last gold-harvest and with a few crisp 
sentences compelled Seabeck to accept the money. (At 
that, Seabeck stood a loser by Charlie's thievery, but no 
one knew it save himself, since he never mentioned the 
matter.) 

Billy Louise and Ward were married just as soon 
as Ward was able to make the trip to the county-seat, 
which was just as soon as he could walk comfortably 
with a cane. 

They stayed the winter in the Cove, and a part of 
the spring. Then they buried grim, gray old Marthy 
up on the side hill near Jase, where she had asked them 
to lay her work-worn body when she was gone. 

They were very busy and very happy and pretty 
prosperous with their three ranches and what gold Ward 
washed out of the gravel-bank while they were living 
up on Mill Creek, so that he could prove up on his 
claim. They never heard of Charlie Fox again, or 
of Buck Olney and they never wanted to. 

If you should some time ride through a certain por- 
tion of Idaho, you may find the tiny valley of the Wol- 
verine and the decaying cabins which prove how im- 
possible it is for a couple to live in three places at once. 
If you should be so fortunate as to meet Billy Louise, 
she might take you through the canyon and point out 
to you her cave and Minervy's. It is possible that she 
might also show you the washout which always made 
her and Ward laugh when they passed it. And if you 
ride up over the hill and along the upland and down 
another hill, you cannot fail to find the entrance to the 
Cove ; and perhaps you will like to ride down the gorge 
and see the little Eden hidden away there. You may 



356 RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE 

even ride as far as Mill Creek; but you will be told, 
very likely, that no one ever found any gold there. And 
if you should meet them, give my regards to Billy 
Louise and Ward who never calls himself a football 
these days. 



THE END 



Popular Copyright Novels 

AT MODERATE PRICES 

Ask your dealer f<x a complete 
list of A. L. Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fictioa 



Abncr Daniel Will N. Harben 

Adventures of a Modest Man. .Robert W. Chamber* 

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes A. Conan Doyle 

After House, The Mary Roberts Rinehart 

Ailsa Paige o Robert W. Chambert 

Air Pilot, The. Randall Parrish 

Alton of Somasco. Harold Bindkst 

Andrew The Glad Maria Thompson Daviess 

Ann Boyd Will N. Harben 

Anna the Adventuress E. Phillips Oppenheim 

Armchair at the Inn, The F. Hophinson SmiA 

As the Sparks Fly Upward Cyrus Townsend Brady 

At the Mercy of Tiberius Augusta Evans Wilson 

Atthe Moorings Rosa N. Carey 

Aunt Jane of Kentucky Eliza Calvert Hall 

Awakening of Helena Richie Margaret Deland 

Bandbox, The Louis Joseph Vance 

Bar 20 Clarence E. Mulford 

Bar 20 Days Clarence E. Mulford 

Barrier, The Rex Beach 

Battle Ground, The Ellen Glasgow 

Bella Donna Rober t Hichent 

Beloved Vagabond, The WiUiam J. Locke 

Ben Blair Will LUlibridge 

Beth Norvell Randall Parrish 

Betrayal, The E. Phillips Oppenheim 

Beulah (Illustrated Edition) Augusta J. Evan* 

Bob Hampton of Placer RandallPanisk 

Bob, Son of Battle Alfred Ollimnt 

Brass Bowl, The Louis Joseph Vance 

Broad Highway, The Jeffery Farnol 

Bronze Bell, The Louis Joseph Vance 

Buck Peters, Ranchman Clarence F. Mulford 

Butterfly Man, The George Ban McCutcheon 

By Right of Purchase Harold Bindloss 

Cabbages and Kings 0. Henry 

Calling of Dan Matthews, The.. Harold Bell Wright 

Call of the Blood, The RobertHidusn* 

Cape Cod Stories. Joseph C. Lincoln 

Cap'n Eri Joseph C. Lincoln 

Cap'n Warren's Wards Joseph C. Lincoln 



Popular Copyright Novels 

AT MODERATE PRICES 

Ask your dealer for a complete 
&t of A. L Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fktiot 



Cardigan Robert W. Chamber* 

Car of Destiny, The C. N. and A. M. Williamson 

Carpet From Bagdad, The Harold MacGrath 

Casting Away of Mrs. Leeks and Mrs. Aleahine. 

F. R. Stockton 

Chaperon, The C. N. and A.M. WiUiamson 

Circle, The Katherine Cecil Thunton 

Claw, The Cynthia Stockley 

Colonial Free Lance, A Chauncey C. Hotchkiss 

Coming of the Law, The Charles Alden Seltzer 

Conquest of Canaan, The Booth Tarkington 

Conspirators, The Robert W. Chamber* 

Cordelia Blossom George Randolph Chester 

Counsel for the Defense Leroy Scott 

Cry in the Wilderness, A Mary E. Waller 

Dark Hollow, The Anna Katharine Green 

Day of Days, The Louis Joseph Vance 

Depot Master, The Joseph C. Lincoln 

Derelicts William J. Locke 

Desired Woman, The WiU N. Harben 

Destroying Angel, The Louts Joseph Vance 

Divine Fire, The May Sinclair 

Dixie Hart WiU N. Harben 

Dominant Dollar, The Will Lillibridge 

Dr. David Marjorie Benton Cookt 

Enchanted Hat, The Harold MacGratk 

Excuse Me Rupert Hughe* 

54-40 or Fight Emerson Hough 

Fighting Chance, The Robert W. Chamber* 

Financier, The Theodore Dreiter 

Flamsted Quarries Mary E. Waller 

For a Maiden Brave Chauncey C. Hotchkiss 

Four Million, The 0. Henry 

From the Car Behind Ekanor M. Ingraham 

Fruitful Vine, The Robert Hichen* 

Gentleman of France, A Stanley Weyman 

Get-Rich-Quick-WaUingford.Georye Randolph Chester 

Gilbert Neal Witt N. Harben 

Girl From His Town, The Marie Van Vorst 

Glory of Clementina, The William J. Locke 

Glory of the Conquered, The Susan GlaspeU 



Popular Copyright Novels 

AT MODERATE PRICES 

Ask your dealer for a complete 
list of A. L. Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fiction 



God's Good Man Marie Corelli 

Going Some Rex Beach 

Gordon Craig Randall Parish 

Greyfriars Bobby Ekanor Atkinson 

Guests of Hercules, The ..C.N. and A. M. Williamson 

Halcyone Elinor Glyn 

Happy Island (Sequel to Uncle William) Jennette Lee 

Havoc E. Phillips Oppenheim 

Heart of the Hills, The John Fox, Jr. 

Heart of the Desert, The Honor e Willsie 

Heather-Moon, The C.N. and A. M . Williamson 

Her Weight in Gold George Ban McCutcheon 

Herb of Grace Rosa N. Carey 

Highway of Fate, The Rosa N. Carey 

Homesteaders, The Kate and Virgil D. Boylet 

Hopalong Cassidy Clarence E. Mulford 

Honor of the Big Snows, The. .James Oliver Curwood 

House of Happiness, The Kate Langley Basher 

House of the Lost Court, The C.N. Williamson 

House of the Whispering Pines, The . .Anna K. Green 

Household of Peter, The Rosa N. Carey 

Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker. . .S. Weir Mitchell, M.D. 

Husbands of Edith, The George Barr McCutcheon 

Idols William J. Locke 

Illustrious Prince, The E. Phillips Oppenheim 

Impostor, The John Reed Scott 

In Defiance of the King Chauncey C. Hotchkisi 

Indifference o* -Juliet, The Grace S. Richmond 

Inez (Illustrateu Edition) Augusta J. Evant 

Infelice Augusta Evans Wilson 

Initials Only Anna Katharine Green 

Iron Trail, The Rex Beach 

Iron Woman, The Margaret Deland 

Ishmael (Illustrated) . . .Afrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth 
Island of Regeneration, The. .Cyrus Townsend Brady 

Japonette Robert W. Chambert 

Jane Cable George Barr McCutcheon 

Jeanne of the Marshes E. Phillips Oppenheim 

Jennie Gerhardt Theodore Dreiser 

Joyful Heatherby Payne Erskine 

Judgment House, The : , Sir Gilbert Parker 



Popular Copyright Novels 



Ask your dealer for a complete 
of A. L. Burl Company's Popular Copyright Fiction 



Keith of the Border Randall Parrish 

Key to the Unknown, The Rosa N. Carey 

King Spruce Holman Day 

Knave of Diamonds, The Ethel M. Dell 

Lady and the Pirate, The Emerson Hough 

Lady Betty Across the Water. 

C. N. and A. M. Williamson 

Land of Long Ago, The Eliza Calvert Hall 

Langford of the Three Bars . Kate and Virgil D. Boyle* 

Last Trail, The Zane Grey 

Last Voyage of the Donna Isabel,The Randall Parrish 

Leavenworth Case, The Anna Katkerine Green 

Life Mask, The Author of " To M. L. G." 

Lighted Way, The E. Phillips Oppenheim 

Lin McLean Owen Wisler 

Little Brown Jug at Kildare, The . Meredith Nicholson 

Lonesome Land B. M . Bower 

Lord Loveland Discovers America. 

C. N. and A. M. Williamson 

Lorimer of the Northwest Harold Bindlort 

Lorraine Robert W. Chambers 

Lost Ambassador, The E. Phillips Oppenheim 

Love Under Fire Randall Parrish 

Macaria (Illustrated Edition) Augusta J. Evans 

Maid at Arms, The Robert W. Chambers 

Maid of Old New York, A Amelia E. Barr 

Maids of Paradise, The Robert W. Chambers 

Maid of the Whispering Hills, The Vingie E. Roe 

Maid of the Forest, The Randall Parrish 

Making of Bobby Burnit, The . . Geo. Randolph Chester 

Mam' Linda Will N. Harben 

Marriage H . G. Wells 

Marriage a la Mode Mrs. Humphrey Ward 

Master Mummer, The E. Phillips Oppenheim 

Masters of the Wheatlands Harold Bindloss 

Max Katherine Cecil Thurston 

Mediator, The Roy Norton 

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes A. Conan Doyle 

Missioner, The E. Phillips Oppenheim 

Miss Gibbie Gault Kate Lang ley Boshtt 



Popular Copyright Novels 

AT MODERATE PRICES 

Ask your dealer for a complete 
list of A. L. Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fiction 



Miss Philura's Wedding Gown. 

Florence Morse Kingsley 

Miss Selina Lue Maria Thompson Davits* 

Mollie's Prince Rosa N. Carey 

Molly McDonald Randatt Parrish 

Money Moon, The Jeffery Farnol 

Motor Maid, The C.N.andA. M. WilMamson 

Moth, The William Dana Orcutt 

Mountain Girl, The. Payne ErsMne 

Mr. Pratt Joseph C. Lincoln 

Mr. Pratt's Patients Joseph C. Lincoln 

Mrs. Red Pepper Grace S. Richmond 

My Friend the Chauffeur . CJV. and A.M. WiUiamson 

My Lady Caprice Jeffery Farnol 

My Lady of Doubt Randall Parrish 

My Lady of the North Randatt Parrish 

My Lady of the South Randall Parrish 

Mystery Tales Edgar Atten Pot 

Mystery of the Boule Cabinet, The. 

Burton E. Stetenson 

Nancy Stair EKnor Macartney Lane 

Ne'er-Do-Well, The Rex Beach 

Net, The Rex Beach 

NightRiders, The RidgwellCuttum 

No Friend Like a Sister Rosa N. Carey 

Officer 666 .. Barton W. Currie and Augustin McHugh 

Once Upon a Time Richard Harding Davis 

One Braver Thing Richard Dehan 

One Way Trail, The RidgweU Cullum 

Orphan, The Clarence E. Mulford 

Out of the Primitive Robert Ames Bennel 

Pam Bettina Von Hutten 

Pam Decides Bettina Von Hutten 

Pardners. Rex Beach 

Parrot & Co Harold McGraOi 

Partners of the Tide Joseph C. Lincoln 

Passage Perilous, The Rosa N. Carey 

Passionate Friends, The H. G. Wells 

Paul Anthony, Christian Hiram W. Hayt 

Peter Ruff E. Phillips Oppenheim 

Phillip Steele James Oliver Curwood 



Popular Copyright Novels 

AT MODERATE PRICES 

Ask your dealer for a complete 
list of A. L. Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fiction 



Phra the Phoenician Edwin Lester Arnold 

Pidgin Island \ Harold MacGrath 

Place of Honeymoons, The Harold MacGrath 

Pleasures and Palaces. Juliet Wilbor Tompkins 

Plunderer, The Roy Norton 

Pole Baker Will N. Harben 

Pool of Flame, The Louis Joseph Vance 

Polly of the Circus Margaret Mayo 

Poppy Cynthia Stockley 

Port of Adventure, The ..C.N. and A. M. Williamson 

Postmaster, The Joseph C. Lincoln 

Power and the Glory, The. . .Grace McGowan Cooke 

Price of the Prairie, The Margaret HiU McCarter 

Prince of Sinners, A E, Phillips Oppenheim 

Prince or Chauffeur Lawrence Perry 

Princess Passes, The C.N. and A. M. Williamson 
Princess Virginia, The. .C. N, and A M. Williamson 

Prisoners of Chance Randall Parrish 

Prodigal Son, The HallCaine 

Purple Parasol, The George Ban McCutcheon 

R. J.'s Mother Margaret Deland 

Ranching for Sylvia Harold Bindloss 

Reason Why, The Elinor Glyn 

Redemption of Kenneth Gait, The. .Will N. Harben 

Red Cross Girl, The Richard Harding Davis 

Red Lane, The Holman Day 

Red Pepper Burns Grace S. Richmond 

Red Republic, The Robert W. Chambers 

Refugees, The A. Conan Doyk 

Rejuvenation of ,Aunt Mary, The Anne Warner 

Rise of Roscoe Paine, The Joseph C. Lincoln 

Road to Providence, The. . .Maria Thompson Daviest 

Robinetta. Kate Douglas Wiggin 

Rose in the Ring, The George Ban McCutcheon 

Rose of the World Agnes and Egerton Castle 

Rose of Old Harpeth, The. .Maria Thompson Daviess 
Round the Corner in Gay Street. . .Grace S. Richmond 

Routledge Rides Alone Will Lerington Comfort 

Rue: With a Difference Rosa N. Carey 

St. Elmo (Illustrated Edition) Augusta J. Evani 

Seats of the Mighty, The .Gilbert Parker